How to find meaning in life, when our sense of ourselves, our identity, our place in the world is destroyed in an instance? We have to remake our identity as a person who cannot hold down a full-time job, who needs disability, who is unemployable. How does this strange new identity change how we find meaning in our lives? Do our lives have any meaning if we can’t work?
On the pathway at the entrance to Disney World, there is a tile that says, “What is your gift to the world?” For many of us, that gift is our work, the job or career we planned to build a life around. A life with meaning. The first way we need to think about this is to separate work from job. Having a full-time job is not the only way to work, and our work is how we contribute to the world.
Working through the system, we seem to focus exclusively on what we can’t do, what we’ve lost. In ourselves, though, in the privacy of our homes, we need to change that thinking to what we can still do, what we can still contribute to the world, and how.
Maybe you never thought of yourself as being particularly skilled at writing, at creative work like painting, at counseling others or just being a friend. Now you have the time to develop those new skills. We can all learn new skills. Talent is a myth, but perseverance and hard work is real. Perseverance and hard work is the lesson that our kids learn from watching us.
When we look around the world, even the world of our own small place, we can usually find something that needs to be done. The hard part is accepting that what we would really prefer to be doing is off the table. There is still work to be done, and if we think of that work as our gift to the world, and not the hell-on-earth to which we are consigned, even doing laundry takes on the unexpected charm of a fist full of flowers.
Some people like to volunteer–an hour at the Food Bank, or helping out with the repairs on an elderly neighbor’s house, or driving the van to get people to their medical appointment or groceries, or knitting scarfs for people who are cold. Everyone can contribute something, and maybe if we all contribute what we can, the whole of us will function like an old patchwork quilt, stitched together with frayed scraps and pieces, and we will keep the world, and ourselves, warm.
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