I’ve started going through books, asking each volume whether or not it would like to come live at No. 77 with us, if it will enliven the imagination and keep company on dark winter nights. Some books cry out to come along for the dusty adventure of moving into a house being renovated! Others say, “Thank you, but send us along to some other home.”
I pulled a volume off the shelf this afternoon, that every time I’ve moved has been scrutinized and re-evaluated. But today, before I placed it in the giveaway pile, I randomly flipped to a page, and this poem struck me as utterly appropriate for our upcoming home reno. The poem also reminded me of so many people in our lives who have demonstrated this fearless approach to hard work, a willingness to dive in, roll up their sleeves, as if to say, “I’m here to work until the work is done.” We are heading into many months of dust, grime, chaos, obstacles, and hopefully many successes and delights along the way. This poem reminded me that the way in which you give yourself over to a task often transforms both the task and the doer. Not only will we be renovating a house, there may be some renovating of our spirits as well: patience, determination, cheerfulness, gratitude, creativity will all be essential to our survival and success.
So, I wanted to share the poem with you.
You may be happy to know that this particular book will be “of use” to us in our new home.
To Be of Use
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 hand, 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
in Circles on the Water
Poem found in Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat.