To Be of Use (with thanks to Marge Piercy)
Rael San Fratello, Teeter-Totter Wall, from Sarah Cascone, “Artists Briefly Bridge the US-Mexico Border With a Heartwarming Seesaw Linking Kids in Both Countries,” artnet news, July 30, 2019
What skills do you have now, and how are you called to use them in this moment to serve your community? This is not an idle or intellectual question. The success or failure of our democracy, the survival of our species and many others on planet Earth, depends on how we answer it, how we act on it.
From my blog post two years ago:
“Lughnasadh, celebrated in Ireland around August 1, is the harvest festival, a time to take stock of what we have: abundance from field and garden, life blessings, skills, abilities, accomplishments. The Celtic god Lugh, after whom this sacred day is named, was known both as a warrior hero and the Many-Skilled One. As the story goes, Lugh once journeyed to the Hill of Tara to join the court of the High King of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Ireland’s legendary First People. The guard at the door asked what skill he had that would be of use to the King. Lugh rattled off his skills: smith, craftsman, swordsman, harpist, poet, historian, sorcerer, physician, and on and on. The guard informed him that they already had an expert for each and refused him entrance. Finally Lugh asked, “Do you have any one man who has all of those skills?” Stumped, the guard let him in.”
Each of us has unique skills. These may be concrete, like carpentry or cooking, or less tangible, like communicating clearly, peacekeeping or combating racism. Each skill involves a set of behaviors that we can perform ourselves and teach to or model for others.
Right now, in the current emergency, we need all the resources we can muster to solve the problems we face. We can’t hold our talents in reserve for a better time. “Someday” is now. Everyone has something to contribute.
I am inspired by people using creative skills to make change. A few examples:
- Tituss Burgess’ amazing video of his new song, “45”
- The teeter-totter, designed and built by California professors, that briefly bridged the harsh border wall with joyful, collaborative, international play (see photo above)
- Valeria Luisella’s work as a translator for young migrants, described in her beautifully-written, heartwrenching book Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions
I am developing my writing skills, learning to tell my truth with beauty and power, allowing my words to reach others, listening to and learning from others’ words.
There is no time to waste. We need to raise our voices in every way we can, take action, and build a new, more just world to replace the one that is crumbling before our eyes. In the words of the great poet Marge Piercy:
To be of use
Reprinted by the Poetry Foundation
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.
Marge Piercy, “To be of use” from Circles on the Water. Copyright © 1982 by Marge Piercy. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
Source: Circles on the Water: Selected Poems of Marge Piercy (Alfred A. Knopf, 1982)