Sunday, December 28, 2008

Seeing the wood and the trees

Should one feel obliged to do something with one's life? And how does anyone determine their own life's value, that alone someone elses? This bubbled to the surface from something my father said the other day about my older brother. Dad tends to tally up things like jobs held, property accumulated and money in the bank. He judges his own self deficient in comparison with his own brother: Gordon has a two storey house overlooking Middle Harbour; Gordon held down an executive position with a manufacturing company; and, Gordon has been married to the same person for 64 years.

Dad's oldest child, on the other hand, owns a share in a commune which is worth very little, if anything. He has never married, had children nor had a relationship of note. He has difficulty finding a job, that alone holding one. He even has trouble keeping volunteer jobs. He gets thrown off the dole regularly to encourage him to find a job. He is 63 years of age. He is a paranoid schizophrenic who "blew his brains out" with hash and LSD in the late 60s early 70s.

I rang him on Christmas night to see how his day had been. He had spent it at "his" nursing home in Port Macquarie. He helped with the church service. The nurses queued the residents in beds and wheel-chairs out in the corridors and Barry wheeled them into the chapel. When they could not get the CD player to work one of the residents piped up "It's okay. Barry can sing 'Away in the Manger' for us."

Baz has a client list and is reluctant to accept more "clients" until he thinks he can attend to them adequately. He visits those who have no other visitors. He talks to them when they seem neither to respond, understand nor hear. He eases them out of their life.

Each life is precious and worthy. But how do you determine the value of a life? How do you determine whether that lifetime was well utilised?

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know,
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of chilly wind and downy flake

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost


Juddie said...

Julie, this is a sensitive and moving post, and I love the poem you selected to go with it. There is definitely much value in a life lived with kindness and generosity, and I'm sure you're very proud of your brother.

Juddie said...

Hi again Julie,
I hope you don't mind - I've added your blog to my link list, under 'Life in the Slow Lane' (a celebration of thoughtful living).

All the best for a very happy New Year!

altadenahiker said...

I don't know if any life has value; perhaps temporary worth is more like it. Or I could be completely wrong about this, and every life's moment is in support of something great and grand that's around the corner, maybe centuries around the corner.

I'm bad at metaphysics, because I so want something wonderful to be true, but fear it's not.

Still, I argue, we have dawn and sunrise. Every morning I wake hopeful.

Your brother was a beautiful little boy.

Sally said...

Julie, I find it deeply moving that someone like Barry, who many would have difficulty acepting and relating to (me included, probably), can connect at such a profound level with the most vulnerable and alone. That's the most valuable of gifts he is giving.