making difference


My son spends a lot of time on the computer. I’ve been trying to help this teenager balance his time more wisely and you know, be a human sometimes as part of his daily routine. Yesterday I asked him to go out into the garden and cut off all the old growth from the variegated lariope, which he has done before (and since it involves mostly destruction, he seems to enjoy it). He got the clippers and headed outside.

I joined him shortly thereafter to do some weeding in one of the other flower beds, and was pleased to note that he was both chopping and spending some time just sitting in a lawn chair – mind you, this is a boy I am happy to see “being bored” because it means he is thinking and experiencing being a human.

After a while. he was done with all the pruning and went back inside. I moved to that flower bed to weed and noticed that he had cut the old growth, but not much of it. The old strands of grass were still pretty long and I thought to myself: ‘it doesn’t look like he did much here. I wonder why that was okay for him.’ Perhaps he is the kind of person who wants his presence to go by unnoticed. It is a humble way to live. Not me. When I do something like this, I want to see results; I want to know that I made a difference, that my interaction in this space mattered. It’s why I’m terrible at light housework but really good at a deep clean. You can tell – by looking, smelling, and sensing – that work has been done here.

And that made me think about how I live my life, or at least how I want to live my life. I want the work I do, the people I meet, the projects I’m involved in, all of it: I want it to matter that I was part of it. Not that I want to put my personal mark on it, but that the effort I made was noticeable; I’m not just a body who was present but an active part of the adventure. Not that it wouldn’t have happened without me, but that my piece of it contributed to the whole.

I’ve read a lot lately about artists and writers and musicians (since I am in that category myself and need the encouragement) who often say two things: 1) the best ideas are the ones that come to you almost unbidden (what the ancients would have called the Muses) and 2) (which is the one that really applies here) don’t write (or paint or whatever) what you think people want or what other people are doing; add your own voice to the world because yes, someone has probably already done or written what you are doing, but they aren’t you. Your voice is the authentic one, not the voice you think you’re trying to accommodate or predict to get famous or published or performed.

So when I think about the artistic contribution I want to make to the world, I want to use my own voice, but I also want it to matter that I was here. I want my interaction in this space and time to matter. Does everybody feel that way, or is it just (people like) me?

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