Wednesday, May 16, 2007

the calculus of being human

I’ve been surprised with a week to myself because The Owner didn’t put me on the schedule at The Inn – and he didn’t give me any explanation. I called Sunday night to see if I was working Monday (which I have done for the last eight months) and was told they had not yet done the schedule and would call me Monday morning. No one did. I called back Tuesday evening and was told I wasn’t working this week and The Owner was not available to talk about it. I was going to drive up there today to see if this is his bizarre way of telling me I no longer have a job, but I got started spreading the mulch I ordered in the flower beds and opted for a day of feeling productive rather than one feeling frustrated and angry. I can do that tomorrow.

About three this afternoon I came in from the yard, showered, dressed, and drove over to Panera to meet Ginger and our friend Don for coffee. Our conversation lasted the rest of the afternoon and went all around the world. Part of it centered on my father-in-law’s Alzheimer’s, which is steadily worsening. As his memory becomes less accessible he doesn’t seem like the same person and yet he is, still, to his core one of the kindest, gentlest, most hopeful people I have ever known. Don talked about a swami who spoke at an interfaith gathering who talked about the essence of the soul staying the same (at least the way Don remembered it). If you cut off your arm, the swami said, your soul would still have the same essence.

As the three of us turned that over, we began to think a little differently. The relationship between heart, soul, body, and mind is complicated and multifaceted. All four are essential to our humanity and are, I suppose, part of our “essence.” When one is affected, the whole person is affected. When my father had open heart surgery a decade ago even he could see he was fundamentally changed by the experience. He was still recognizable and he was different. One of our friends was in a car accident a number of years ago that left her a paraplegic. Before the accident, most folks saw her as a carefree spirit. In the years since the accident, she has completed law school and is in private practice. She was a nurse before. Her essence has proven to be one of resolve, hope, and tenacity. Coming to terms with my depression over the past five or six years has changed me as I’ve learned to live with a disease that plagues both my mind and my body chemistry.

The picture painted in Hebrew scripture is of heart, soul, mind, and body creating a unity: they are inextricably connected. Rather than one being the essence of a person, the different aspects of our humanity – the raw materials – live in concert, in equation. There is a calculus to being human: when the variables in the equation change, we change. If we learn to think differently, more than just our minds are different. If we face some sort of physical challenge or change, our hearts, souls, and minds aren’t left unaffected. The impact of the change doesn't stop at our skins. Ginger’s parents have been married almost fifty-one years. The changes in my father-in-law also have an impact on my mother-in-law, on their daughter, on me. None of us can stay the same.

I have been changed by my time at The Inn. I’ve learned a great deal about my craft and I’m a better chef. I’ve even learned a lot about the business, coming to a better understanding of dealing with food cost ratios and other fun stuff. Because I’ve had to deal with The Owner, I’ve had to learn how to speak truth to power without getting defensive or belligerent. I’ve also had to learn how to detach from the soap opera aspect and do my job. I’ve also had to learn to live with uncertainty when it comes to my job security, regardless of my performance. Though I can’t claim to have gone all Barbara Ehrenreich on the world, I have been changed by my first hand experience in the hourly wage, no benefits, no job security world that is The Inn, if not most of the restaurant business. As my equation of heart, soul, body, and mind has changed -- so have I.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” says Deuteronomy, which I’ve always taken to mean, “Love God with all that you are.” One single aspect doesn’t hold our essence; it’s the whole intricate, complex, dynamic, amazing, and fragile package. It hurts to see my father-in-law slipping away. I hurt for my mother-in-law who is physically and emotionally present as her Loved One disappears.

The calculus of being human is hard work.

Peace,
Milton

6 comments:

Presbyterian Gal said...

Thought provoking post, Milton. Thanks.

I always took the “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” from Deuteronomy to refer to everything about us except our physical body.

That the body, being a temporary thing, is more of a clumsy, thick prism through which the expression of our love for God tries to shine, and only sometimes succeeds. And to succeed the few times it will, it will take all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.

It is hard work being human.

Anonymous said...

Mr. B-C,

It's probably been a while since you have been called that, but I guess this will be a bit of a blast form the past. This is Derek Pahigiannis from way back in honors Brit Lit at Winchester High School (and later at a John Hiatt concert you were working at). After stumbling upon your blog after going through my old WHS yearbook with my girlfriend (we searched the names of the two teachers who signed my yearbook), I just wanted to say that what you are writing is really quite provoking, touching and beautiful. Obiovusly this comment space is limited so I will keep it short, but I hope that all is well.

Thanks,
Derek Pahigiannis (dpah51@aol.com)

towanda said...

Hi -- I just started reading your blog and enjoy it. I'm struck that you conclude your post with Deuteronomy and the same observation that I made in the exegesis paper I just turned this morning: to love God with our whole being. Only I think you said it better.

It is hard work, being human. And God loves it all.

Peace.

don't eat alone said...

Derek!

Great to hear from you. I will email you for a more personal response.

Towanda

I hope you get a good grade on the paper and I'm glad to find your blog as well. I added it to the blogroll.

Peace,
Milton

Lissa said...

Hi Milton...

Been enjoying the writing lately and have been checking in daily to see about the job situation. You seem to be coping well with all the uncertainty and craziness of the Inn. I'm sure lots of restaurants would be thrilled to have you chop and dice and make stock for them. Hang in there.

Lissa

Cynthia said...

What a wonderful entry. I'll remember this.