This Wasn’t in the Job Description…
I stabbed myself on Friday.
Our recently sharpened kitchen knives cut through all kinds of things much better now, including the skin at the joint between by thumb and index finger. I took ibuprofen for the pain and put on some neosporin for the disinfecting angle. I wore a bandage to prevent Stuff from getting into the 1/2″ to 3/4″ puncture wound. I drank another beer for the pain.
That’s not necessarily the “job” for beer, but it’s the application to which I put it.
There’s a carpentry maxim that you should use the proper tool for the job. There’s a theater corollary that the proper tool is the closest one at hand, but anyone who’s ever tried to drive a nail with a crescent wrench knows the mechanics just don’t work out as well.
My job doesn’t define me in the way that a hammer’s job defines a hammer, but there are mental parallels nevertheless. When I was writing my dissertation, I really really really wanted the academic job that was the obvious conclusion to my education. But the job of that Ph.D. was not to get me a job, it was just to educate me. By the time I did get a job, I didn’t want it on any terms whatsoever, and when the time came to consider going full-time, I opted not to apply. And I became a carpenter, again.
It might be easier for me to disconnect my career from my person because I’ve never really had a career, just a number of different jobs. But I still wonder about my “function” sometimes. And I’m not a particularly religious person, so this is not particularly easy to answer. Is it easier if you belong to a religion? I’m partial to the existentialist statement that we’re responsible for our actions (and some of their consequences) in this world, and therefore what we should be doing is trying to make the world a better place. I believe we can do this on immediate scales of supporting one another in friendship and easing one another through pain, celebrating each others’ joys. We can do this on large scales with social programs like the one my brother administers in hospice and palliative care in East Africa. But you need both. Heartless social policy fulfills a bodily need, but not a mental or emotional or a spiritual one, depending on how you count.
The struggle for me is always balancing the long and the short term, making a sacrifice or a compromise here because that will help the situation over there. Lisa and I call it investing, even though we’re not talking about money. We invest in a community, in our relationship with one another. It’s not horse-trading, which is just a business decision, but negotiated with respect and love.
Cancer doesn’t have a long term job. It’s all short term. Grow grow grow grow grow. It doesn’t care if it kills its host because it’s not its job to care. It just wants to keep growing.
I should probably avoid thinking in functionalist terms. It doesn’t get me anywhere. Even though that’s exactly what it’s supposed to do.