"The Work of Life"
I put quotes around the title of this post, because it is stolen from one of my students today. She was writing in response to an argument against concern for "every little" bit of extinction that occurs in our world today. The "prompting" argument suggested that we need only be concerned about the "bigger," "more significant" disappearances. She assertively advanced the argument that we need to attend to the "little things," as we are interconnected creatures; if we neglect the small "details" of our lives, we may just lose out on the ability to deal with the bigger things, because all of the little details will have hastened the larger disappearances as well.
E. is not a great writer, but she is a passionate thinker, and a great observer of the world around her; she is invariably saying things that demonstrate the deep insight she carries with her. She often asks me to "scribe" for her as she "writes," which simply means that, as I take up the mechanical task of being her "secretary," she is free to identify and articulate her thoughts without being stopped by some infernal keystrokes. Late in her essay today, she discussed the interconnectedness that is in play around bees, "little critters," perhaps, in the eyes of the "big extinctionists," but in E's eyes, they went about "the work of life." I kidded her about the phrase a bit, but she was very taken with it, with its poetry, and even chose to use it as the title of her essay.
So, this weekend's Sunday Scribbling prompt is "alchemy." When I first saw it, I immediately flashed upon something from my own life, decades ago, but I was not ready to put it all down in words, I was just too weary at the time from some recent traveling. As I sat down to write about it this evening, I was drawn back to E's "work of life."
It's not necessarily anything that sounds terribly portentous. When I was about eight years old, I was living in Frankfurt, Germany; my stepfather was a Army band musician, and we were stationed in Frankfurt for three years: I finished first grade there, and stayed on through fourth grade. At one point - as I say, about when I was 8 - I have a very distinct memory of opening a rather large book and seeing a picture of a bearded man who was identified as an alchemist. I had no clue what that meant, but I did have the distinct impression that it was a very important word for me to hold onto. Interestingly enough, around the same period of time, I also remembering "hearing" the word Armenia at some point: not from any external source: this was an internal voice.
I carried those two words for a long time, before they ever came to show their true meaning in my life. I lived a very long time, struggling to be inside a box of my own creation, full of significances, success markers, and a rather straight and narrow map. Thankfully, I finally broke away from the self-imposed slippery slope, rejecting boxes right and left, coming to my own sense of alchemy, first with years of therapy clients who gracefully taught me the freedom of finding and living out of their own voices. Though I was designated the "therapist," I was as apprenticed to them as much as they were supported by me, and when it came time for me to move on and find the rest of my life, the examples of their lives were very much within me. As the writer within me grew more and more, I came to see the alchemy inherent in these strange voices that insist on being sung. They are all alchemical little souls, caring not a whit for the coherent, left-brained ways of the world. And now, as a teacher, I am once again apprenticed to the lives of the students who daily circulate around me, bees all about the "work of life."
Fourteen years ago, I met Tina Karagulian, at which point the echo of "Armenia" struck again. She is of Armenian descent, and what "Armenia" seemed to be suggesting to me all those years ago was - what I felt even at its first utterance within me as a child - dark mystery / the mystery of transformation from centuries of sadness / and the radiance of darkness. Tina is all that, and more: her last name literally means "black rose," and her life is dedicated to a healing that is not only for her, but also for those millions of persecuted and martyred Armenians, as well as for their persecutors as well.
Her life is a work of life, a work of art, and work of heart.