I Am a Waste
In December my boss told me drunkenly at our holiday party, "You're a waste." A coworker said my face melted in horror. Later, the more-sober boss explained, "I just meant that you're too smart to do the position we hired you for." I'm aware of this -- I signed up for a workerbee position and not more -- but his comment tapped into something that I bury and gloss over. And I have not stopped thinking about the comment since. I am not a waste in the way he meant. His vision of my capabilities means nothing to me. But in regards to my own deep-down expectations, I am on my way to wasting it all.
There were two things I wanted to be when I was twelve years old. I've read that what you want to be at twelve is the truest to your heart's calling. I wanted to be a writer and I wanted to be a midwife. A midwife! By the time I hit junior high and all through high school, I had very clear intentions of going to Africa to . . . lend a hand. The amount of suffering and lack of resources affected me deeply. I researched how I could help, and during the summer between my junior and senior years, I was selected by Operation Crossroads Africa to spend a summer on a West Indian island lending a hand. I raised every cent for my airfare to NY where the Crossroads office was located and then I was sent to a tiny island on the northern tip of the Leeward Islands. With eleven other high school kids, one college-aged leader and one island guide, we set up a summer camp for kids and fixed up houses of elderly islanders. As I painted red-roofed houses in fantastic aqua hues, I listened to old women tell stories through the window. They never told political or worldly stories, but stories of lovers and children. I listened to kids as we did art projects at camp and they told me local gossip like whose gnip trees yielded the most fruit. I loved every minute of every assignment. We all bunked in one house that sometimes had running water and was haunted by water bugs the size of crawling watermelons. When the water was out, we would walk a half mile to a community spigot to fill our buckets for washing, body and clothes. To this day, it's a mystery to me how anyone can hand wash clothing without having them dry into stiff, uncomfortable rags. It was an amazing summer that solidified my conviction that lending a hand was what I was meant to do.
I did a lot of lending-hand stuff through the rest of my teens into my early twenties; obscure solo missions. Like, I would cook food and then try to give it to random homeless people on the street who did not necessarily want to be bothered or approached in that way. Quite a few had untreated mental issues and I was all, "Here's a plate of food," and 17th Street Alice would be running from me yelling, "Stop trying to poison me." I also out of the blue volunteered to teach dance at a home for pregnant teens in East LA. The girls ranged from 12 to 17 and they would come to my class either bursting at the womb or with an infant cradled in arm. They didn't listen to me for nothing. When I tried to warm them up, one 16 year old put her hand on her slender hip that projected a huge belly and announced, "I do not stretch. I am a lady." So, eventually I ceased all dancing and just sat and listened to them because they were dying to tell their stories.
In the last fifteen years, My Calling to Help has been shoved to the side by Pushy Practicality and straight out materialism. So has my writing. In my mind, I equate materialism to greed and practicality to fear. And if I don't feel brave enough to stick to my heart's calling then isn't that a waste? If I am constantly tormented by things that happen in the world far away and right in my community, but I don't do enough or more, isn't that a goddamn shame and a waste? This is not to point out how little we all do, how much we all might waste, this is about me letting my callings go by because I'm scared to be impractical, too nervous to let my rent slip past due. It's hard to do it all. My husband has pointed out that maybe our sole purpose is to raise two future superheros. I absolutely believe this is one of my purposes, -- the one purpose at which I may not be failing-- but is my life only about putting hopes of accomplishment onto them? Is my supieor parenting message: I've given up and I pray you don't?
Many people that I know well and do not know well would say I have not wasted my natural abilities. But as I sit at my desk and mindlessly dial broker after broker and appease whiny salespeople and buy electronic chips that feed the technology monster, as my boss's comment echoes through me, I can't help but feel empty and wasted, withering away without giving a more meaningful contribution. It just weighs me down.
What did you want to be when you were twelve years old?