05 March 2010

Being Poor

I'm posting this on both of my blogs, simply because I think it's important.  And cool.  And also because I like to take up space.

I am an anthropologist.  Not by trade, because no one really pays me to anthropologize, and only a little by training (as I still have yet to fulfill that last foreign language credit to earn my Bachelor's degree...),  but by action, as I am constantly studying the habits of people, primarily little people named Olivia and Elsie, and learning about people all over the world, in order to teach my children and (frankly) to eat tastier food.  I am not an English major, either, as that last was certainly a run-on sentence.

Nathan is an actor.  By trade, which right now is coming in fits and bursts, as auditions come and go, and by training - first at one university where he entered the program which closed the following year, and then another, where he had to start all over again in order to follow the program in sequence - but mostly by action.  He loves acting.  It moves him in ways I do not quite understand, but can recognise beneath his calm exterior.  He is happiest when he is creating, and he creates by acting.

On the surface, we are run-of-the-mill, 9-5 folks, who are maybe peculiar by religion (being members of the Baha'i Faith) or maybe eating habits (see my Sweetgrass blog for more about that).  Nathan holds a "regular" job at the Baha'i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois, can take down a pint of ice cream in 5 minutes, and has a love/hate relationship with the Chicago Bears that only a tried and true fan can survive.  I stay home with our two little ones, make shopping lists, and try to calm the beast that is housekeeping.  But scratch a little of the gold paint off, and we are complicated and weird.  Probably just like you are.

The main problem is that both of us would rather be doing something else, but in order to work in this world, we are doing what we need to do to feed and clothe and love our families.  Having little children is rough work - it's not some "hooray, let's play all day long!" jamboree, but a constant mirror of all of your little personal glitches and a gigantic balancing act of personal time and sacrifice.  And for an extremely creative person to be working from nine to five as a bookstore manager, when he'd rather be speaking to the souls of people through the performing arts... well, you can imagine.  There are certainly any number of alternate arrangements we could make (I could work part-time or even full-time, Nathan could take care of the girls, we could be nomads...), but this is where we are.

And the end result - we are poor.  I'd like to think "poor in all save God," but that sounds a bit too high brow for my taste, and I don't even know if I'm "rich in God."  Especially when I am trying with all my might not to lose my temper with a smarty-smart three year old who is right more often than I'd like to admit.

But, griping aside, there are some things that keep us going.  For Nathan, it is the dream of fulfilling his calling as an actor.  Recently, that dream has been run through the wringer, but he is tenaciously keeping a candle lit for it.  It is difficult to watch a spouse suffer in this way - to see his determination when going to an especially important audition - the preparation involved, the sleepless anticipation - and then watch as he waits for the call.  And waits.  And waits.  He is bravefaced about it, and doesn't let on to others, but I know better.  And my feeble attempts to cheer him - my wan jokes and paltry distractions - only serve to rub in the fact that we know... we know.

The Baha'i Fast is a time for reflection before the coming New Year on 21 March (Naw Ruz).  It is a time when adult Baha'is (except those who are ill, pregnant, and "giving suck"- yours truly) abstain from food and drink from sunup to sundown for nineteen days.  It is, as I see it, a time for suffering, albeit mildly - to draw the mind and heart of one closer to the sufferings that those dear Manifestations of God who came to earth to teach us about God's Love for us only to be shunned and chained and imprisoned and killed.  This small act of not eating demonstrates our love for and connection to these Blessed Souls.

It is also a time for the stripping away of veils - fasting in many cultures is a process of purification - a time for us to see more clearly our lives and roles for the coming year.  The clarification I learn during this fasting time is how I can better serve myself, my family, and humanity.  During these past few days, while we have held our breath with Nathan to hear about his audition, I have reflected on my role in the family and especially my role in supporting him.  And I've realized that the best way to support both my daughters and my husband is to be strong in who I am.

The dream that keeps me going is one of equity and justice, and it is mightily green.  My calling, vague as it is, involves feeding and teaching people about food - about where our food comes from and how it grows.  About reinvesting value into that precious nourishment we give our bodies.  Food and prayer nourish us in ways we don't even realize - one feeds our body, the other our soul - and they aren't that far apart.  I envision a farm - an urban farm, perhaps - where everyone is welcome to come and learn how to live in balance.  I suppose before I realize this dream, I've got to figure it out myself.

My goal, then, for this fast, is to develop my own balance.  To gracefully grow into my own confidence, and from there, to lovingly encourage those around me to do the same.  To develop a systematic way of being in the world that is simple yet profound - one that I can teach to my children with the utmost love and respect - and to move through this precious one life with a loving impact on those I encounter.  Not that I'm some amazing Zen nun - I've still got a temper the size of Niagara Falls - but at least I know it, and can channel that passion into other endeavors.  This of course does not mean that I'll not ever get off track, but at least I will have a touchstone.

So I suppose being poor has its advantages - primarily, I realise that my dreams will have to have no contingency upon income.  Which leaves me the realm of the spirit.  That is, of course, infinite.



Joey G. said...

I've always been proud to be your little brother and able to grow up with you. Your influence on my life has been greater than you or I can probably realize so at times like this when I DO comprehend how fortunate I am to have you as a sister I need to let you know that. It's not only just for me, for I know that Jessica as well is greatly thankful for your fellowship. Kinda' makes me want to move to Chicago, Jessica would love that......

Lizzy Q said...

Hi Brudder.

We would love that, too! :)

Thank you for your loving words - I can't even begin to describe how I love you and Jessica, too!

Hope your fast is going well!

Dena said...

i love everything about this post, liz. you have a way with words that is so pleasant.

i believe the terms "being poor" and "being rich" are very ambiguous. from an outsider looking in, i see your life as very rich :)

i feel extremely lucky to have you, nate and the girls a part of my life!

Lizzy Q said...

Hey Dena-Bean!

You are right - "poor" and "rich" are very ambiguous. However, what is NOT ambiguous is the amount of money in my pocket right now (read: $0)! :)

In all seriousness, we are very lucky to have a wealth of dear and wonderful friends like YOU, upon whom we can rely. There is absolutely nothing ambiguous about THAT!

We love you!