Several weeks ago my job ended, and in the same moment my company assigned me a new job. In some ways what was lacking in the first job gave me a hunger for aspects of the new job that otherwise I wouldn't have had a taste for. My new job is more demanding and requires greater accountability. I need toil in my life in order to grow, and I'm grateful to have been put into a position where I could want it.
Several recent articles in Traces have helped me understand work better, and which I've blogged about at Broken Alabaster (1, 2). I've also been challenged by Scott, Sharon, and Suzanne to meditate on the theme of the Diakonia: "Something that Comes First," notes from a talk of Fr. Giussani's at an assembly in 1993:
"Ten or twenty years later, the same experience proceeds if your point of departure is the impact with a new reality and, 'as a child rests in its mother's arms,' you abandon yourself, follow, obey, because that diversity doesn't spring from your imagination or thought, from your dialectical skill or your obstinancy, from everything, that is, that has kept you away for years: it's something other, irreducibly new — an event — to be obeyed" (4).
The word that recurs in this talk is "diversity" or "human diversity." Now, this different humanity is someone whom I've met who paradoxically brings me closer to the most diverse people I may speak with during the day. The word diverse reminds me that I will always be surprised by this different humanity. It means that those I regard as adversaries may in fact bring me to gape in wonder at the world. Something different, new, an event, obedience — where better to find all this than at work: where reality resists the inevitible expectations of my thoughts, and where assigned tasks bring me together with people that I wouldn't find through common interests or the usual affiliations and associations?
How can it be that I'm discovering the value of work at the age of 41? I've seen it before — more than once — and yet now there's something else. My friend, Salvatore, pointed out bluntly: "you need stability," and I agreed with him, but how to find stability? When I mentioned this need to another friend, he pointed me to a definition in Is It Possible to Live this Way, vol 1: "[virtue] is a habitually correct attitude toward the known object" (117). Over time, this definition has percolated within me. It's one thing to realize at this moment or another moment the value of work, the greatness of reality, the gift of human diversity; it's another to cultivate the habit of rediscovering it every day, every hour, every minute. And how do I rediscover it? By obeying, by submitting to my condition — not blindly or like a robot — but wholeheartedly giving myself to the needs that I see in front of me. And I'm never disappointed when I do — I'm always surprised by something great. What's really amazing is that on a day like today, a lazy, distracted day filled with excuses, this tender sprout of a virtue is still with me and presses with certainty that something great is here if only I would look for it. The victory is not me, not my coherence, but that someone great has found me, and if I turn I will see him.