Monday, October 06, 2008

So, here's the score

The six month medical leave I just took made a space in my professional and personal life to consider things. I have been thinking what my life is all about. This might be a sort of generic mid-life crisis question. But it’s MY mid-life crisis question.

What have I accomplished? Have I done anything that has made a difference?

Talk about a depressing question to ask oneself! What if the answer is a big fat NO?!

Why are we here? Is it enough just to exist? Is procreation the only imperative, if there is even that? Or maybe, considering the size of the human population right now, that’s the wrong thing to have done! Is there even any objective way to measure good and bad?

I think there is, in fact, good and bad. And I think we can probably come up with some agreements about examples that would even withstand voting by every culture and time through human time and space.

1. Live a thoughtful, examined life. You may not get things right all the time, but by making an effort, and thinking about things, I am sure we are doing the right thing.

2. Try to make things better where-ever you live. Whether you plant flowers, or a tree, or are kind to animals and people, or volunteer at a school or soup kitchen, or meditate or pray, or bring order or justice to the world, or build a house, or do art or poetry or writing I think you make things better. Even if it’s just temporary, or a tiny increment, I am sure it is important (though I am not able to explain why). I think this is one of the things we can agree universally is good, though we may disagree (sometimes violently) on some of the details, like what is justice.

3. Thus, I am not sure it matters whether we do something big and impressive, or achieve some “success” in our life. I think in the big picture, it is, oddly enough, the little things that add up to mean a lot more.

4. And I think it matters less WHAT we do, and more HOW we did it. If we do a small, everyday task with grace and love, meaning it to make things better, I think it probably counts for a lot more than if we make a grand gesture with selfish motives.

So, what's my score? This is hard, and a bit embarrassing. It's hard to tell. It's not as though what I do is very easy to measure. At the end of the day there is very rarely anything I can look at and say, "Wow, I did that!" Even when I worked as a legal services lawyer, it was not a transactional job, so there were not deals, there were small squabbles. Most of my clients, I could never point to and say that I made their life any better. That was sort of a bummer to realize that. There were one or two, but most of the time, I think I just used up court resources and the resources of landlords and other defendants. Hmmm.

And now, as a librarian.... Hmmm. At least I feel like each day I am doing more positive, happy-making things (at least most days). That's nice. I have helped law students feel more confident in their research skills (and maybe generally), and steered a few into librarianship. I may have helped some librarians feel more confident and networked. I don't know. When my daughter was in middle school, they learned about the ancient Egyptian religious beliefs, where after death, the heart of the deceased was measured against the feather of truth. If it was weighed down with lies and bad deeds, the person was doomed. It would be handy (and maybe a little scary) if we could get a mid- or late-life test to see how we are shaping up. You might see a lot of scrambling. I hope it would not be too bad, though.

As a mom & spouse I think I usually do OK (except when I get mad at Jim -- sorry, honey!). Pretty bad at keeping in touch with sibs, parents & old friends from the past... I don't know how much those things weigh in with the feather of truth.

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