Sunday, December 12, 2021

Not Even Not Zen 233: Biomythography - Note 10

A Biomythography - Note 10
by Secret Hippie

Enjoy Your Work

"What are you doing?" I asked Tucker in disbelief. A stack of split wood lay tumbled to his right. Ten feet further, he had made a neat, long stack of firewood. It was his second row. The back row, already enough for two years at the rate they burned, stood as high as my head. He was adding depth to the family stockpile.

Tucker took another swing of his axe and finished splitting the log.

"Doing what I have to do," he replied.

Tucker's father had commanded him to split wood as a preemptive punishment. The order hadn't made sense. Tuck hadn't done anything wrong even according to his parents' strict standards. His family had already laid in too much wood. Some of it would rot. Even though I'd been mad at his father for the capriciousness of the command and the insulting manner of it, I hadn't taken it seriously for those reasons. It failed to occur to me that my best friend would, as always, serve his punishment because he'd been told. That's how he worked.

In a continuous manner, I had failed to understand for two years. Now it was the summer when I was sixteen and taking an order seriously simply wasn't what I would have done, not when it made no sense. I was struggling to understand Tucker's family dynamics.

"You were so mad," I said. I had seen Tucker protest the command, which of course led to his father yelling, which eventually led to Tucker telling me I should go. His father had lowered his voice to agree that I should leave and that I would be welcome back when Tucker was done, a small politeness.

"I guess I was," Tucker allowed with a smile.

He picked up another half-log. Then he turned his back, took aim at the center ring, and swung. For a minute, I watched him work. Tucker returned to his singing. That was a habit I think he had picked up from me. He was making it his own, though. Instead of a mournful chant like the ones I used for manual labor, Tucker sounded almost joyful. No, there was no 'almost.' He was happy. Distinctly so.

"Why are you suddenly pleased with yourself?" I asked.

He paused, gave the matter a bit of thought, and replied, "It's not that sudden."

"You're being punished. For nothing. How can you be happy?"

"Hey, man." He took another swing. The log split. One side fell over. The other, smaller piece traveled six feet before bouncing to a stop. "I know I'm going to have to do it anyway. Why should I let him spoil my day?"

I put my fists on my hips and I thought about it. I'd never heard anyone tell me anything like those words before. For my part, I stayed angry even while doing things that were my decision. I had recently fasted for two days, satisfied with myself spiritually but angry at my life. I had gutted through extra workouts recently, too, determined to reach my arbitrary goals. There were a lot of things I did as joylessly as possible.

"Haven't you noticed that he only gives me this chore when I'm happy? This is my punishment for smiling or, worse, for laughing. He always punishes me when I laugh at something."

"Yeah." The observation was straight on target. His father's instinctive anger at seeing his son being happy was part of what made the relationship seem abusive.

"Honestly, I think it drives him crazy to see me having fun chopping the logs for the woodpile. It's supposed to be my punishment. But I sort of like it. Come on, I know you like chopping wood. You said so."

"But that's me." It was accurate but something about it seemed unfair. "You said you hated it."

"I don't know how it is for you. But I take this attitude whenever I can with my chores now. You just find the part, whatever little part there is, that you like. Then concentrate on that part and let it make you happy. Man, you can be happy about any damn thing."

It had not occurred to me that I didn't have to be miserable just because someone else was making me miserable.

Tucker returned to chopping wood. After a while, he radiated so much joy that I started to smile. I stood there for five minutes, watching him finish. While I did, I tried out the idea of being happy about a chore that I had to do. It seemed to work for Tucker. I helped him lift the last log into place.

When he got down to the last quarter-log, Tucker stopped singing. He seemed sad that his punishment chore was almost over. I returned, mentally, to the idea of finding some part of a job to like - any job, any likable part - and I tried to imagine what it might do for me. And I hummed a mournful tune to myself as he took another swing.

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