“Suppose we did our work / like the snow.” Snow slowly, continually, deliberately falls, with a pace and discipline to cover the whole world. “Quietly, quietly, / leaving nothing out.”
I love this little poem, but at stake is our work.
“Our work.” Some in our lives cannot imagine we have work. Some relatives, even some parents, can’t conceive that “little Johnny” has obligations. That others depend on them, that their labors are needed, that other people love them.
There are also toxic people who must deny others do anything of value. I’ve had a few of them in my life and I’m fortunate I wasn’t undermined at critical moments. It’s very difficult to have a sense of self strong enough to completely ignore them, because they indulge moments one is trying to evaluate one’s own failure.
Snow does not have a cast of characters always reaching to create self-doubt.
Like Snow Wendell Berry Suppose we did our work like the snow, quietly, quietly, leaving nothing out.
“Our work.” What do we do that’s important?
This question depends on perspective. Someone horribly insecure, or a bully, or an insecure bully can’t be trusted to answer it. Nothing is important, in their case, except random task X being performed by person Y who is better than you.
I’ve found a good way to think about this question is to imagine you just survived something horrible. For myself, starting from that feeling of immense gratefulness—I mean, there are still plenty of good reasons to not be grateful—serves me well.
What’s important? Taking out the trash. Giving someone else attention. Reading. Cleaning. Looking at nice paintings. Dinner. Taking a walk.
OK, granted, none of that stuff is a job. To be fair, jobs do exaggerate their importance. But the world does depend on them. I’ve helped students become better readers and writers despite my struggles with remote teaching. If retail outlets don’t have shelves stocked, if pipes don’t get fixed, if paperwork doesn’t get done, it’s hard for others to live their lives.
Nearly everything we do helps everyone else. It’s weird—that aspect of work is like snow, imperceptibly constant. I’d only say that it isn’t quite correct to insist on quiet, as the poem does. Jobs are quite vocal as they demand from us.
“Quietly, quietly, / leaving nothing out.” Snow isn’t just complete in its coverage. As it descends, it gets the world to stop. It makes quiet, too.
This proposition I can endorse. I’d like to work, and then use a moment to reflect on what it was really worth. Not a quick attempt at justification, nor a 3,000 page tome on the value of retail. Just one real breath, where I can feel my place in the world at that time. Taking it all in, to know what’s right.