I don’t use them very much anymore, but I used to say a prayer of thanks every time I went through a fast food drive-thru. A literal prayer of gratitude that I was lucky enough to have been born into a life that kept me on the outside of that window.
I don’t scrub toilets for a living. I don’t pick up discarded condoms out of the backs of limousines. I don’t have to resign myself to the possibility of spending the rest of my life smelling the same floor cleaner every day. I don’t have to worry about shelter or fresh water, for that matter. A bad day for me is when my DSL connection goes down.
I feel fortunate because of this. I also feel guilty, sometimes, though I know it’s irrational.
Yet no matter how good the job, my most constant companion during the workday thus far has been a perpetual round-peg-square-hole sensation, that no matter how cohesive the team or stimulating the work, where I am is not for me, not long-term.
It’s not exactly a dissatisfaction, more a sense that it’s not what I was built to do, if you’ll pardon the determinism.
I met a woman in an Auto Zone parking lot once who claimed to be a prophetess. Mary was (and, I assume, still is) a die-hard evangelical Christian. She believed strongly that the Holy Spirit had given her the gift of prophecy. She wasn’t trying to proselytize, wasn’t insane or pushing an agenda on strangers. It only came up then because she felt what she believed to be a sudden stirring of the Spirit and began to use what she believed to be her gift.
I remember her looking me dead in the eye and declaring that I would one day help children. She fanned herself and smiled and shook just a bit and declared that she was feeling it strong that day.
I was in my early 20s, most of a decade away from having my first child. But she was adamant. Wouldn’t necessarily be yours, she said. But children. She was certain. It was strong that day.
Now, I don’t believe in prophecy, not as a magical psychic power. I believe a prophet is no more or less than a person who understands his or her own time and place perfectly, who sees what can and must change. That’s what John the Baptist was. That’s what Martin Luther King was. Hell, I could point to a long line of capitalists that fits the description. Certainly it wasn’t Mary, as she only knew my first name.
But what she said occasionally comes bubbling up from the depths of half-remembrance and I wonder if it will come true. What really pokes my poodle is wondering if it will because she indeed did have a gift, that of planting suggestions in perfect strangers’ respective heads.
My life and the Internet have taught me about one thing over and over again: my own privilege. I am white. I am a man. Damnable cruelty of aging aside, I am not difficult to look at. I am straight, I am thin, my gender matches my genitals, my parents could afford my college education, and I learn things usually much faster than the average person. I even attend a mainstream Protestant church, though my theology and ethics swerve pretty far left of the average Arkansan. Life, in short, is a goddamn golden goose for me.
Life owes me nothing. I owe life a debt of gratitude. Yet I do so little.
And then there are those people I am condescending enough to be grateful not to be. There are Mary’s words. And though I don’t believe in fatalism, there is that lingering question in my head: Is the sense I get with each new job that this will not be where I put down roots caused by this guilt? Can I even claim not to be a fatalist when I catch myself looking around an office where I am happy to work and thinking this is not where I am meant to stay?
To be dissatisfied with so much would be an unforgivable sin, were it not that I know that my real dissatisfaction is with myself, with my laziness and cowardice. I suspect I’d be happier if I did more. For all my liberal pretensions, I simply do not do enough for others, when the God I claim to believe in says it should be my whole life.
Anesthetizing yourself is much easier, of course. You merely start by saying the right sorts of things and getting angry at the right sorts of people. But the attractiveness of that option has faded, and my patience with myself is wearing thin. The trick will be finding something to do that doesn’t detract from my time with my wife and children, as I have so little to give them as it is.
Currently I work for a non-profit, trying to help doctors to provide better care for their patients. I believe it is very important work, good work. I’m going to start graduate school so I can become more of an expert in this field. Perhaps this will be the path to change. I hope it will, as I have no clue what to do otherwise. But more than that, I suspect (and hope) that this is only the beginning.
As for the children I was prophesied to help? Who knows. I adore kids, the smaller the better. I even made two of ’em, and for all my failures as a father, so far they’re all right, beautiful and brilliant little critters. I’d like to claim some responsibility for this. If I can help others as well? Name me something nobler, and I’ll do it.