'What is my worth?' a women asked me recently. 'I'm unemployable. I'm homeless. I have no friends', she told me with tears in her eyes.
This woman's painful words have been going around my head for weeks. And it seems the more I dwell on them, the more I realise how closely they echo my own inner pain.
Sometimes, usually in the stillness of an evening, I'm overcome by the realisation that my mark on the world is so very small, barely significant. And I shudder and wonder, what is my worth? Perhaps this is a legitimate question in a world where it seems like my worth is calculated by my appearance, my personality and most of all, my work. Perhaps an inheritance of Darwinian philosophy means I have to validate my existence by constantly working and creating something of grandeur.
The People that do not do Anything
But I know I do produce. I am a worker, I create, serve and nurture. Even my unemployed, homeless friend is able to produce - she tirelessly knits blankets for other homeless people.
Yet some people can't do anything. Some people cannot really create anything. The people whose bodies are ravaged by mental or physical illness or people like my two sons who died at birth.
The Young that Die
It's been many months now; 4 years and 9 months since I held my first-born and 17 months since my second son died. Birthdays seem to be stacking up one after the other; breathing is getting easier.
Yet, they're still dead. It does seem that such a plenary grief leaves a lasting, gaping hole in a heart, in a life, forever. And even now I am tormented with thoughts about their short lives. I wonder, what is the point of their lives if they never did anything?
Maybe this is the language of the lost, of the hurting, of the unsuccessful.
So I search. I read lot of memoirs and spiritual seeking books.
But it's the most elementary concept that has brought me the most comfort. The idea in Judeo-Christian thought that God has so much love for humanity, that all creation is worthy; gullies and spurs, trees, hummingbirds and the fog that veils the mountains on a fresh spring morning. And people, particularly people, are valued. If I'm honest this is why, even amongst all the confusions, contortions and contradictions religion presents, I can't let go of it, or at least of God.
I was struck with this idea of the value of people when I came across this poem written by 20th century Franciscan Monk Thomas Merton. It's called a 'Song for Nobody' and it goes like this:
A yellow flower
(Light and spirit)
Sings by itself
A golden spirit
(Light and emptiness)
Sings without a word
Let no one touch this gentle sun
In whose dark eye
Someone is awake.
(No light, no gold, no name, no color
And no thought:
O, wide awake!)
A golden heaven
Sings by itself
A song to nobody.
In sweet simplicity, I think Merton captures the essence of Judeo-Christian thinking on humanity. The flower's value - its beauty - is that it exists. It is completely valued, before it does any producing and before it achieves any accolades. So the flower has no need to pursue worth from other sources. It can relax. And be okay even if its song is for nobody but God.
The crux of the poem is that only after the flower understands its worth in front of nobody that it is woken up. Having found the paradise lost; the flower has become enlightened. It has found God.
I wonder if this is what those special people do, those who cannot ever produce anything, they exist with God. In their mere existence they do not enter the all-encompassing vain pursuit of worth. So perhaps these people that don't do anything actually do a lot after all; they show me what it is to be awake; to be with God. And surely that is the most worthy, most precious gift of all.
Danielle Carney lives on the Gold Coast. She has a degree in Theology and is now studying again.
Danielle's archive of articles can be viewed atwww.pressserviceinternational.org/danielle-carney.html