“Work that is real”

Hello all! I promise that an Amsterdam-related update is forthcoming. Today, though, I want to both keep my April poetry streak going, and share something with a very important group of people who have been much on my mind.

Most of the folks reading this blog are current or former employees of Partners In Health, the US-based non-profit organization where I spent the better part of my life and career  – 16 1/2 years, to be exact. PIH is where I “grew up” in many ways. It is where I gained professional skills, to be sure, but it is also where I developed an understanding of the world from a perspective of social justice, service, and human rights. I may have moved on to a new city and a new job, but my heart is never far from PIH, and what I learned there continues to animate and inform my work.

PIH has been in the news lately due to their (and yes, it’s still hard to say “their” and not “our”) involvement in West Africa combating Ebola. Several weeks ago, an American clinician working with PIH in Sierra Leone tested positive for Ebola and was evacuated to the US. I learned yesterday that the clinician had been discharged from the hospital and declared a survivor, to everyone’s great relief.

My colleagues and friends in West Africa have been so present in my mind these past few weeks, and I thought of them all today when I came across the poem below.  Credit goes to the lovely folks at Still Harbor for directing me to this poem through their weekly round-up of meaningful things on the web.

To my PIH family: you are the people I love the best because of your ability and your willingness to “do what has to be done, again and again”.  I’m sending this out to Boston, Haiti, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Liberia, Malawi, Peru, Lesotho, Russia, Mexico, and everywhere that past or current PIHers are working, studying, struggling or celebrating. Your work is as real as it gets.

To Be of Use
by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

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