Marotta column for use January 10th -13th, 2008
In his new song “That Was Me,” Paul McCartney describes how amazed he is when he looks back and sees all he has done in his 65 years.
I admire people like him, because of how grateful they seem for the chance to have used well their time here.
So what I would like to do today is suggest that we look back at our own lives and ask ourselves what work we have tried to do, regardless of how successful we were in doing it.
I look at my own life and see someone who worked like an ant, whether or not the project mattered.
I didn’t just stay up all night during the school year doing homework, I stayed up all night at summer camp, making elaborate decorations for the big “team party” which people enjoyed mildly at best and only then because they gave us ice cream at the end. Even as a preschooler, I colored as if it were a job, filling sheet after sheet of paper with the same waxy reds or blues.
It didn’t matter if I had any talent for the task I was working at; I worked away at it regardless. For example, to save my family money, I made my own clothes and never saw how terrible they looked with their dipping hems and puckered zippers. So, too, I sang in choral groups all through high school, then got to college to find I wasn’t good enough even for the Freshman Choir, which accepted a staggering 200 students from a class of just 620.
Later, with college behind me, I became a teacher, and was once again up much of the night correcting and preparing.
Then I left the classroom to raise some babies, and one day during their nap got the notion to sit down and write a column to bring to my local paper. Within a year, I was driving all over the country, selling the column to other papers, in some cases for just $5 a column.
“This is a disastrous business plan! You’re trying to build the Great Wall of China one stone at a time!” an editor I visited told me bluntly.
Maybe so, but that didn’t matter to me. I didn’t much care that I couldn’t seem to turn a profit. I made people feel better inside.
In time, I must have wanted to make them feel better on the outside, too, because I took a six-year detour into bodywork, going back to school and learning so much anatomy I was practically talking in Latin.
This time, though, my energy failed me. The 12 extra hours added to my workweek started costing me too dearly, and I had to quit this second job -- but not before an old friend from church said the most wonderful thing as she was introducing me to her mother.
“Mom!” she said, smiling her beautiful smile, “This is my massage therapist!”
She did not offer my name, and she spoke only of what I did for her, and yet I can’t tell you how great what she said made me feel.
Because to have been useful is everything, is it not?
Sure it’s fine to identify some big talent, but you don’t have to do that, really. Often, the humblest things we do are the best things anyway, as I have thought a thousand times when I have held someone’s poor tired foot in my hands.
My life couldn’t have been more satisfying, I finish by realizing here.
Look back at your life now and see if you, too, don’t feel amazed by the work you’ve been lucky enough to do in this world.
Write Terry at email@example.com, or care of Ravenscroft Press, Box 270 Winchester, MA 01890.