Sandra Benedetto: The Thing You Were Made For

I’m starting to worry about how I spend the hours and minutes of my life. Other than my teaching job, most of my activities are passive: reading, writing, eating, watching TV and Googling rare medical conditions. It seems like most people have hobbies that require movement. I admire these people (you are probably one of them). They take up cycling, running, jewelry making, photography or brewing. They get their motorcycle licenses and black belts in tae kwon do. They foster dogs or work in community gardens. All of those things sound like a lot of fun. I wonder why I don’t do them and feel badly that I don’t. I used to do things.

I would never go so far as to say I was a go-getter, that’s just not me. But I did in fact do things; and I made a list to prove it to myself: gymnastics, using an airbrush, hula hooping, sight reading sheet music, using a T-square to draw plans for something and then using shop tools to make it, rolling a joint, making friendship bracelets, climbing trees, playing the clarinet, swing dancing, sprinting hurdles, writing poetry, having philosophical discussions, sewing, playing chess. I can’t or don’t do any of these anymore. However, I’m very proficient at cleaning and grocery shopping.

Now that I think about it, I used to KNOW a lot more, too. For example: the names of all the bones and muscles in the body, the world capitals, how photosynthesis works, which gods were Greek and which Roman, the significance of the Saracen in medieval French epic poems, the strengths and weaknesses of IKEA’s business plan, math. There are times that I vaguely recall something I once knew but have no factual knowledge of. For example, someone will ask a question like “Who’s Manuel Noriega?” and I’m like, “Oh, yeah, he’s the guy that was always on TV when Reagan was president. He . . . did something bad. I dunno, never mind.” I’m usually good for only one of the classic five W’s.

When did I become so slack? As a kid I was always either outside playing or doing something creative inside, like inventing plotlines for my Barbies or painting. In high school I was always busy with school and sports. In college I split my time between rigorous coursework and drinking terrible beer out of plastic cups. I think things went downhill after that. Was it the energy-sapping full-time work schedule? The discontinuation of a formal education? The abundance of quality TV programming? Probably all of the above. Work turns me into the potato and the couch welcomes me with open arms, as couches do. TV requires nothing of me other than the occasional squeak when Jeff Goldblum or a former cast member of The Wire appears onscreen.

It’s pretty convenient to blame work and TV, but I think the real problem is that I haven’t heard my sound. That won’t make sense until you read this long but beautiful C.S. Lewis quotation:

But if it should really become manifest–if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself–you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for.’ We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the things we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all.

Maybe I heard an echo and ignored it out of fear, or maybe I just haven’t heard it yet. The French have an expression, métro-boulot-dodo, that sums up the drudgery of the daily grind and is roughly translated to commute-work-sleep. I have to think there’s more to life than that, or in my case commute-work-TV-sleep. Here’s to all of us finding the thing we were made for, and doing it.

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