I have a confession. I frickin’ love The Prophet. It is the best holy book ever, and yes, I say this fully aware that it is, in fact, a book of poetry. I say this knowing that an entire community of hippies, my parents included, thought it was totally righteous because it had a lot of advocacy of nudity and free love in there. Yes: I endorse a book my parents loved when they were hippies. I don’t care. It’s great.
For those of you who are wondering what the hell this has to do with anything, The Prophet is a long story that has to do with a single wise guy (that would be the Prophet) telling everyone in his village the essentials about the important stuff in life. So some villager will say, “Hey, tell us wise stuff about marriage,” and he says, “You betcha,” and begins to spout.
I’ve been listening to it while doing the laundry, if you must know, and there’s a whole section “On Labor.” Which I shall now proceed to quote at length, because I am still deeply plague-ridden, and I have to go to bed early, and all of me hurts. Also, because it is really quite beautiful, and I’ve been snarky all week, and I could use some beauty.
Then a ploughman said, “Speak to us of Work.”
And he answered, saying:
You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.
For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.
When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.
Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?
Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.
But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born,
And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,
And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.
But if you in your pain call birth an affliction and the support of the flesh a curse written upon your brow, then I answer that naught but the sweat of your brow shall wash away that which is written.
You have been told also life is darkness, and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary.
And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge,
And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge,
And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,
And all work is empty save when there is love;
And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.
And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,
And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you and watching.
Often have I heard you say, as if speaking in sleep, “he who works in marble, and finds the shape of his own soul in the stone, is a nobler than he who ploughs the soil.
And he who seizes the rainbow to lay it on a cloth in the likeness of man, is more than he who makes the sandals for our feet.”
But I say, not in sleep but in the over-wakefulness of noontide, that the wind speaks not more sweetly to the giant oaks than to the least of all the blades of grass;
And he alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving.
Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distills a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.
Love what you do, that simply, that absolutely. If you don’t know why you are doing what you are doing, stop it. I mean, really, stop it right now. That’s a poor way to spend a third of your life, without knowing what you are doing, or why, or for whom.
One of the reasons I do what I do, one of the deepest reasons I decided to write for a living and to write only for heroic people, people who did good work, people who dreamed of doing something they loved and went out and started the business, started the life.
The reason I started my own business was that I couldn’t bear working for heroes who seized their own lives and did work imbued with love without joining them. What kind of sad little existence would that have been, admiring people and never doing that admirable thing?
Love. Love is a good one to remember. Work for people who love what they do, and work hard for them. I’ve got a woman for whom I may be taking on a project who sounds terribly hurt, because the last company who wrote for her didn’t write for her, didn’t write in a way that reflected what she did and how she loved it. And that’s a strange kind of blasphemy, working counter to someone else’s love. I’ll probably work harder in my life than a lot of people, but all my work will be good work, and I’ll be glad of that.
Tomorrow, prepare yourselves for some bitter, bitter thoughts. All this contemplation is getting to me. Don’t worry, it’s the NyQuil talking. This will not be the normal state of affairs.
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