Bringing in the Sheaves
By Jan Wilberg on June 28, 2014
My day was mixed. I got up early to work on an analysis of our city's new coordinated entry system for people who are homeless. I am at home with data, tallying things in new directions, finding patterns hidden from the less patient. This is what I'm good at - translating the little picture to the big picture - so I was happy to have this be my day. The tallying and charting. Nothing better.
Then I was reminded that today was the retirement luncheon for someone who had been very influential in my life and so I got myself dressed up and went but it was disappointing and disconcerting, all the while I thought he should be having a much bigger party with more people, proclamations, a band and tipsy people dancing, maybe even me. But that's not what happened. It was a mystery why not but made me think all afternoon about what is next for me in my life.
I thought and worked and then walked a fairly long way.
For a long while I've known that my ability to work in the way that I've worked for forty years was becoming greatly impaired by my hearing loss. Despite excellent help from a center devoted to hearing and communication and the very latest hearing aid technology, I simply cannot hear in many group environments, the very places where my business is done. Coalition meetings, task force meetings, group discussions, committees are all complex blurs of sound with one or two voices that gratefully stand out. I am so often a sitting duck for misunderstandings, wrong responses. It is possibly the most harrowing experience of my life right up there with walking across an orphanage courtyard to adopt a nearly 7-year old girl whom I had never met and who spoke another language.
So I reflected on this on my walk. I am loathe to retire because I believe that I am still smart and see things and can move things in ways that other people don't. But the hearing disability is beating my ass big time. I can't do what I'm doing the way I'm doing it for much longer. So what can I do, I asked myself. What do I want to do?
I want to be famous for something new. By famous, I mean getting respect and appreciation for doing something other than what I've been doing. And, for me, that means writing. What do I want at the age of 66? I want to be a better writer. I want to write better essays, be published in more places, spend my days seeing the world the way a writer sees it and having that experience of electricity and surprise flashing on the screen as I write.
One of my sons is going through a period of incessant optimism. He posts inspirational quotes on Facebook nearly every day. A common theme is finding one's purpose in one's passion. This makes my husband's eyes roll to the back of his head. He would like this son's purpose and passion to be something involving a fulltime job with decent benefits. But I get it.
My passion used to be getting a room full of people to agree on something complicated and important. I don't think I can do that anymore. But I can do these things. I can write. I can analyze and surmise. I can talk (as long as no one asks me questions and expects a dialogue). I can be healthy and robust and walk and swim well.
Tonight in the kitchen while my husband was frying the bacon to mix in with our steamed cabbage and kale from our little silly garden, I told him that I wanted a new career. Maybe it's because I hate the notion of being chased out of something but some switch in my head has been flipped and the way I'm thinking about all this is that I want, I aspire, to be someone who is accomplished in a different way.
Maybe it's just a head trip, mind fucking as the guy whose retirement party it was today used to describe people who went in circles to make simple things complex. Maybe so. But it feels oddly good to me. Like harvesting our kale, bringing in the sheaves. You know, "we shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves," and all that.
Bringing in the Sheaves is a song written by Knowles Shaw in 1874; it's a hymn I heard sung in church growing up even though I'm not currently a church goer. Here's the first stanza: