Saturday, October 27, 2007

So, What Do You Do?

I spoke to a recently widowed man a few weeks ago. He talked about how, at age 80, he was planning to sell his cattle & farmland & retire. All I could think of was, “Why now? Why not last year when your wife was diagnosed with a fatal disease? Why not 10 years ago when you still were in fairly decent health yourself?”

I fear that we get so caught up in defining ourselves by what we do for a living that we are unable to let go; we are unable to see who we are without our “careers” to identify us. How many people do you know who are working past the age of retirement? How many people do you know that are majorly pissed off when they are forced into early retirement? Bronco B was spitting bullets {or was it snake venom? Can’t remember, could have been horse piss, but he was SOME mad!}when he was made to retire 2 years early. It can’t be just about the money.

My theory? It’s partially cuz people don’t know what they’ll do with all their time. It’s partially cuz maybe they’re on crack & actually like working. It’s partially cuz they don’t want to admit they’re getting older. It’s mostly cuz they describe themselves & their worth by their occupation.

How many times have you heard, or been asked, or said when meeting someone new, “So, what do you do?”

Why does it matter so much? Why does it matter at all? Who cares how we make money to pay the bills? Why aren’t other aspects of our lives more important or more talked about? Other characteristics mean more in the whole, grand scheme of things… don’t they?

I attend funerals on a regular basis. No, boys & girls, I am not morbid, nor am I addicted to egg salad sandwiches ~ is there a 12 step program for that addiction? I sing in the choir, thus my attendance is required whenever I’m able. Often when listening to the eulogy, I am struck by how little people know about the deceased. “Mom loved to cook & garden”. Are you serious? Are you freakin’ kidding me? In 87 years of life, this woman cooked & gardened. That’s it?

I think about that a lot. I think about my eulogy, & what parts of my life people will highlight or discuss when I’m gone. I think about what I do {in my life in general, not as a job} & how I live, & the friends I have. I think about whether I’m making an impression or a difference with others. I try to live my life with that in mind. Gloomy? Morose? I don’t think so. If it makes me live a richer, fuller, more satisfying life then great.

Maybe when we meet a new person we should inquire about how they spend their volunteer time. Or what charities they support. Or what sports team they cheer for. Or how many moles they have. Whatever! Anything but what jobs we do. What is that quote? We should work to live, not live to work. How many people actually live by that maxim?

How sad that the man I saw that morning didn’t have more free time to spend with his dying wife. How sad that he was busy with cattle, & farming, & fixing machinery, & “busy work” instead of being a full-time care-giver to his life partner of 51 years. How sad for both of them. How sad for us all that it didn’t seem that unusual.


Tom Weston said...

My friend Kat, the New York Kat, and I met an aging single man in a Bowery district bar. It was the sort of bar that you just know Johnny Rotten had pissed in the same toilet and it hadn't been cleaned since. Anyhow, curiousity got the best of Kat and I, and one of us ended up asking the dreaded, but endlessly fascinating, question, 'so, what do you do?'

That was a mistake. But to his credit, this bitter new yorker kept talking to us. He just told us that the question was largely out of line. 'What do I do? What am I doing right now? Or do you mean what do I do for money?'

I could just tell that he had done something very interesting for money, and that he probably had known many of the great punks that had gone through the neighbourhood.

I still want to know his story, but mostly because he refused to give it up.

I liked that.

french panic said...

Wilma. You have hit what has been bothering me for years now. I used to HHHHHAAAAAAATE it when people asked me what I "did", especially as I had no bloody idea what to "do" and I hated being defined by whatever craptacular job I was working at.

I still do hate it, but I try not to show my anger at such a stupid question. I am not my job, but so many people seem to need to grasp on to that job thing.

Regarding eulogies and obituaries: everyone always yimmer yammers on and on about nothing. Yeah, mom liked to garden and cook? Borrrring. And no one ever mentions the bad stuff about someone: how about "mom liked to garden, cook, and rail on and on about pakis and niggers and chinks and she was really embarrassing sometimes but she was still a good person." or, mom lived her life for her children and was scared and upset when they all moved away and she died alone because she was actually a very unpleasant person but no one ever helped her to see that change is possible.

Just yesterday a friend told me that she thinks maybe she might consider adopting at the age of 40. I didn't say anything, but why "40"? Another friend told me that if she didn't have a successful career by the time she was 30, she should probably just kill herself, because if it doesn't happen by then, then it never will. (She is now well into her 30s and has a career, but I still don't know what "successful" means.)

This has been a long-winded way of saying that I agree with you.

Wilma said...

Yeah, well, this was a long-winded post as a way of saying "I am not my job" so your comment fits right in!

Is it wrong to want to write my own eulogy? I want it to be good, & since I am such an amazingly anal control freak, I know that no-one could do the job better than me.

french panic said...

That's MY plan. I want to write my own eulogy. Also my own obituary. Also the obituaries of all of my loved ones. I also think that planning your own funeral is a VERY smart thing to do - why expect all of those who will no doubt be grieving your loss expect to get something together in the space of a few days?

I also have 2 playlists of music I want played at my funeral.

It just makes sense to plan all that stuff ahead of time. Unless you are immortal.

Wilma said...

Anyone who has witnessed first-hand how devastating it is for grieving family members to try to make decisions on all the myriad of things you need to decide for a funeral knows the importance of planning your own funeral. & the importance of not making your loved ones go through that stress.

I've been working on my for the past few months. Then we'll move on to Puffy.

flibirdijibit said...

I think I said my thouhts on thos last night, but i hate the being defined by ones 'job'. Being a deadbeat at my jobs I would much rather be defined by my actual qualities. I have them somewhere here....