I started reading a novel called Momo by Michael Ende (same person who wrote The Neverending Story). I haven’t finished it, but there’s this little passage that caught me off guard. The story describes a barber in a struggling town:
One such person was Mr. Figaro, the barber. Though not by any means a high-class hairdresser, he was well respected in the neighbourhood. Neither rich nor poor, he owned a small barbershop in the centre of town and employed an apprentice.
One day, Mr. Figaro was standing at the door of his shop waiting for customers. It was the apprentice’s day off, so he was alone. Raindrops were spattering the pavement and the sky was bleak and dreary – as bleak and dreary as Mr. Figaro’s mood.
“Life’s passing me by,” he told himself, “and what am I getting out of it? Wielding a pair of scissors, chatting to customers, lathering their faces – is that the most I can expect? When I’m dead, it’ll be as if I’d never existed.”
In fact, Mr. Figaro had no objection at all to chatting. He liked to air his opinions and hear what his customers thought of them. He had no objection to wielding a pair of scissors or lathering faces, either. He genuinely enjoyed his work and knew he did it well. Few barbers could shave the underside of a man’s chin as smoothly against the lie of the stubble, but there were times when none of this seemed to matter.
“I’m an utter failure,” thought Mr. Figaro. “I mean, what do I amount to? A small-time barber, that’s all. If only I could lead the right kind of life, I’d be a different person altogether.”
Mr. Figaro quickly falls prey to the antagonists of this novel, the men in grey. They convince him that what he needs to do in order to make something of himself is “save time” by working faster, cutting out unnecessary trivialities in his life, and spending less time with friends and family. Mr. Figaro, and many others in town, accept this proposal and begin “saving time” as frantically as possible. Yet, the more time that is saved, the less anyone seems to have, and the town becomes increasingly frantic, angry, and colorless.
In the light of a good day, on a solid night’s sleep and a song humming in the background of my mind, I know the measure of what I do, and I know it to be small-but-good. And that is what I know I truly want in life, something I have come to want after many years. Contentment and peace, a song on my lips and joy in the work of my hands. I do not want to be grand because I am not a tough enough person to survive that kind of life.
But on the days when I’m sleep deprived, anxious, depressed, or just have an upset stomach, all these thoughts creep up.
What are you even doing? What’s it worth? You’re wasting your potential. Spinning your wheels. You’re not even top notch in the little areas you’ve chosen for yourself. You’ll leave nothing of value behind. Most of the things you do don’t really count and I can tell you why. If you just tried harder. If you spent your time differently. You could really DO something, BE someone.
YOUR TIME IS RUNNING OUT . . .
These thoughts only ever come up when I am sick in body or heart. They sound so true. So right. They make so much sense. Somehow, they always turn out to be flimsy, fragile concepts when I regain enough of myself to laugh again.
I am already someone. I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a visiting neighbor with fresh cookies in hand. I am a writer, a crafter, an artist. I am one who enjoys the good creative works of others on a regular basis, whether written or visual. I’m a cook, a baker, a home-maker in training who has learned that making a home is the process of turning a simple building into HOME one square inch at a time.
The despair, the fear, the terror that you’re running so fast and going nowhere, that nothing you’ve done will matter once you’re gone. This concept is something I’ve heard echoed among my peers so much. But does it matter right now? What are you doing, and whom does it matter to?
Be honest with yourself, neither boastful nor deprecating your actions out of fear that you are boastful. The things you do may matter more to those around you than you allow yourself to dream. If you truly dream of greater acts and being someone bigger, in the light of day on a good night’s sleep and laughter in your heart, then by all means pursue that.
But if, on those days, you want nothing more than the joy of good company and to be able to do what you are doing with all your heart, do not allow the sickness to steal that from you.
“Whatever you do work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”
“To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God.”
—Ecclesiastes 5:19 NTL
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