A friend of mine from high school has a blog with something like three thousand followers. She crafts, mostly, but she also talks about her inner sex kitten and hairdo fetishes. I’ll read her blog every now and then and vow to finally buy make-up and learn how to use a flat iron. I search Craigslist for barely-used maternity clothes, preferably in orange or yellow or other sunny colors. I’ll think that the purpose of life is simply to look and feel good every morning when I leave the house.
Then, I’ll learn that a cousin of a friend had a baby in Djibouti and wrote an article about bringing an American baby into a Muslim world that was published in The New York Times. I’ll start to look for jobs in Somalia and Darfur and think that teaching English in war-torn countries is, in fact, the best way to spend this life.
Later, I’ll rock Clara, smell the dirty diaper I just changed and trashed, and feel her frizzy curls on my nose. I’ll think, quit your Google searches, you don’t need to do anything other than this.
But a friend of ours from college is giving a guest lecture at Harvard in a few days and another friend started his own videography business that advertises he spends every day looking for art and meaning in life. Here at home in Alaska, everywhere I turn are talented, genuine people who give us original pieces of artwork for our birthdays and crochet beautiful hats for all of Soldotna’s children. Sometimes it seems like everyone has figured out how to be magnanimous and purposeful with their gifts. They know whether or not to dedicate themselves to French twists and messy braids or to maximizing the full potential of their camera or to giving life in a dirty, dingy third-world hospital. There’s a lovely little quote in a Dar Williams’ song that I think of when I feel antsy and just fine at the same time: there is nothing wrong, but there is something more.
I’ve been lucky to find my “enough” and now I’m trying to find my “more.” I think it looks like what I already have plus a little extra heart and vision. I have a student who spells “chance” like “chige,” “successful” like “shucseusful,” and “being” like “bing.” He’s grown with a family and says he had a single mom who worked 14 hour days and didn’t have the time to inquire about what he was learning in his special ed classes. When I saw all these peculiar words in his thesis statement, I thought I’d really like to teach him how to spell. I would like to teach elementary students how to spell, middle schoolers how to diagram sentences, high schoolers how to think through writing, and adults how to catch up on all three and move forward, not afraid of communication.
So it comes down to what you do when the baby is asleep. I’m doing this. And thinking about the people who can’t do this. Gift-giving has always been a simple equation—what do you have to spare and who needs it.