As I continue cross-stitching my way through these Big Hairy Audacious days, putting little tiny x-es in various colors in prescribed patterns, I have noticed that my pretty pointillist pictures are not particularly useful. My knitting friends are creating mittens, hats, scarves, shawls and blankets: they will keep people warm this winter. A decorated scrap of cotton fabric will not protect anyone from the cold.
But I like embroidering, it gives me pleasure, and adding beauty to the world is important too. Aesthetic satisfaction is one of the most basic needs according to Maslow’s Hierarchy; certainly if you’re dying of thirst, a piece of fabric art is not a substitute for a glass of water. But a world where people cannot move beyond survival mode and into creative living would be dreary.
In acknowledging that cross-stitching is not necessary for survival, that does not mean that creating beautiful pieces of art, whether it is poetry, music, dramas, pieces of literature, murals, braided rugs, knitted hats, cake decorating, is not useful.
We all need to be useful, to be part of something bigger than ourselves, and to have our efforts acknowledged as making a difference. From what I’ve seen when I visit retirement homes or care centers, what people miss more than their home is the feeling that they have something valuable to contribute, whether it was making the holiday meal, watching the grandkids while their parents worked, mowing the lawn, giving rides to friends, volunteering at a food bank, or working at a job
A friend of mine moved into a retirement complex, with living arrangements that graduate from apartments, to assisted living, and then skilled nursing (much preferred over unskilled nursing, lol), and then hospice. Noticing that most of the residents didn’t leave their apartments, she promptly started a craft group with a mission focus, they knitted hats for the homeless shelter, created special muffs for the Memory Care Unit, and were able to meet their need to be needed. Others visit folks in the skilled care unit or hospice. No longer warehoused, they are able to use their gifts in a new way
Young children love helping. They like to help set the table, mow the lawn, rake, dust, vacuum … they’re not good at it, but they love being helpful. Wise parents channel that early enthusiasm and give their kids the opportunity to do chores, to volunteer at a food bank or help their neighbors, and otherwise be a contributing part of the Family Team.
Some folks are addicted to being needed, and with being appreciated. They won’t let others help them, and insist on doing everything themselves. That’s not this.
This is the joy that comes from making a difference for good by doing what you love to do in a way that someone needs to have it done. I don’t mind long-distance driving, so I had the opportunity to be useful by giving a friend a ride to and from her medical testing. I gave two friends the opportunity to be useful by graciously accepting their offers to bring me a plate of Thanksgiving dinner – it was a hard job, but I did it 🙂 I did need the food as I wasn’t planning to cook a big meal for myself, and they love to cook and to share. And both meals were delicious. So my friends knew they were needed, and I was happy and well-fed.
Some people die of boredom, I think. They can’t see how they can contribute to the world. Having defined themselves by their jobs, or their roles, they are lost when those change or disappear. There are several studies that relate retirement age with mortality rates.** Those who retire “successfully” find ways to redefine themselves, as they find alternate ways to be of use.
Like a piece of cross-stitching art, whose utility may not immediately be visible, we all add something of use to the world. By being ourselves, and by doing what we love or enjoy to help people, we are needed. Not for what we do, but for who we are.
As Frederich Buechner wrote, “The place God calls you is where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”
Today’s Prayer Poem, one of my favorites.
To Be of Use
BY MARGE PIERCY The people I love the best jump into work head first without dallying in the shallows and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight. They seem to become natives of that element, the black sleek heads of seals bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud. Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust. But the thing worth doing well done has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident. Greek amphoras for wine or oil, Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums but you know they were made to be used. The pitcher cries for water to carry and a person for work that is real.
Grace and peace to you! And whatever you’re doing, may you have the chance to do something that is real.
** use your search engine to find various articles about retirement, its connection to mortality, and possible explanations.