Auckland, New Zealand
It was a meaningful conversation. It was with an older lady, who has been unable to work in paid employment for fifteen years. When she suffered her accident she was still only middle-aged, and expecting to work for a good many more years in a job she thoroughly enjoyed and had been doing since her youth. While she may not have drawn another pay cheque since that fateful day, and while she may not have returned to her regular place of employment – or any other for that matter – she has still had work to do. She has had the work of recovery, the work of bearing pain, the work of finding a new role in her community. And you know what? There are people who say to her, and others who insinuate it, that she does not contribute meaningfully to society. Hearing this reminded me of our situation. When we had our fifth child and made public the decision to educate the children at home (the eldest had just turned six and was now required by law to attend school), a dear friend remarked something along the lines of, “I’ll be watching with interest what you do with your life after the kids. You had such potential. You had so much to give.”
It would seem if you are not earning a wage and not in a recognised workplace, the work you do remains unrecognised and perhaps worthless. In our situation we were even accused of choosing the selfish option – refusing to put our children in school meant I would impact far fewer children in my lifetime, not being able to teach someone else’s kids all day if I was with my own. But is economies of scale the best or even *only* measure? In reality, I couldn’t do what I believe about education in a classroom, and I fear I am inadequate to the task of taking on the whole system singlehandedly. Is it really selfish to keep our children out of the cookie-cutter-moulds, to proactively create a rewarding family life, to spend time producing organic food, to practise hospitality, to provide a model of educating myself (I have learnt more in the last decade than any of my university certificates prove in spite of none of this knowledge being “accredited”)….disclaimer: we have plenty of friends who are completely happy sending their children to school and manage to create a fantastic family environment too, so I am not saying Thou Shalt Live Your Life As We Live Ours in order to be successful…..
Dare I generalise?
In richer places (and that obviously includes New Zealand) retirement for most means the end of work. This is generally accepted and remains unquestioned across the breadth of society. But I believe it is because we have such a narrow view of work. Work must equate to income. If we could recognise that providing friendship, taking a meal to the sick, picking flowers for a neighbour, reading aloud to a blind man, cleaning out gutters, raking up leaves and writing a letter was work, we might realise that pensioners DO contribute to their communities. And young mothers at home do and the disabled do, to name but a few more.
As for the lady who sparked my line of thought, she is available to meet people in need, to be a listening ear to those who are grieving and suffering in their own lives. She may not do it in an office, she certainly doesn’t get paid for it, but is it not a meaningful contribution to society? Just ask the people she has listened to.
PS For lunch on our Romanian potato bread we had a trip-inspired Jgirl15-cooked concoction: eggplant, onions, loads of garlic crushed in our brought-home-from-Romania-garlic press, a bowlful of tomatoes and then some more, pepper and salt all cooked up into a spreadable mush. No pictures though coz we’re out of the travelling habit of constantly using the camera.