"Nothing you do is in vain"

My older brother’s sister-in-law has been doing international relief work for almost as long as I’ve known her. She was so helpful and wise, at the time that I was considering it myself, that I didn’t go into the field, though the thought of being so useful to those in such need was overwhelmingly seductive.

I know I don’t have the mental scale that lets you balance what you can’t accomplish with what you can, and decide whether the tradeoff is acceptable. The conditions are so harsh and the scale of work so grim that it imposes limits on care that are unimaginable to those of us who take soap and clean towels for granted; let’s not even think about bandages or IVs. I’d have come off very badly indeed, and that means I couldn’t have done much good.

In our intercontinental conversation on the subject (she’s British), she pulled off a balancing act I have strived to acheive ever since: clearly convinced of my capacities, without any assumption that she knew what they were. When you think about it, that’s very sensible — everybody’s good at something, often several somethings, and there’s nothing that says they have to wear their talents on their sleeves.

I was desperately intrigued by international aid work, but not sure I should pursue it and not even sure how to start; I wanted to know what to do to improve my chances.

She told me, “It doesn’t really matter what you do.” Shifting up from her lovely gentle, understated, soft British manners, I was riveted to my chair as her voice became more resonant, more intense, and I could hear the words marching from the depths of her soul, as she said something like this: “Do what you do; follow your instincts; do the work that comes to you. If [disaster relief] is the right work, the opportunities will open for you when you put yourself in their way, and whatever you’ve done until then will help you get there. If something else is right for you, then whatever you’ve done will help you get there instead.” And then, with a certainty that still makes my bones ring, “Nothing you do is wasted effort. Nothing you do is in vain.”

That was a third of my lifetime ago. Even now, when I have to pull myself through these non-international, unaided situations that are unimaginably grim in a totally different way, I remember her words and how she said them: “Nothing you do is in vain.”

Knowing that no effort is wasted effort, everything becomes much less difficult. Even in such a tiny life as mine has become, this matters hugely. In fact, it totally changes the game.

She was awarded an MBE in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honors list. Clearly someone agrees that her own work is far from in vain.

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How moving

I’m working on clearing out all the needless stuff from my boat. This includes unfinished projects, equipment for work I can no longer do, things I’ve kept only because they’re too cute to get rid of, and so on. It’s been sufficiently, um, absorbing that I have neglected the blogs, but I’m playing catch-up online as I take an hour or two this morning to step back and breathe.

One realization that has helped me tremendously is the insight that NOTHING IS WASTED. I realized this when I held up a shirt that I had worn for a sweaty project: it was too smelly to use as a rag, but I couldn’t bring myself to wash it (laundry costs), and I realized it ought to go in the bin.

In a century or three, it will make very nice dirt for something to grow in. And isn’t it possible, I found myself thinking, that holding relentlessly to individual human scales of usefulness and time is a little … well, ethnocentric isn’t even the word. Speciecentric? … We are, after all, part of a greater reality which none of us will see the end of.

This expands on an idea I had long ago: that I don’t have to hold everything inside my skin. I was meditating to escape pain one day, and it followed me in, the jerk. So I took the idea that I’m just one drop in the ocean of humanity, and as my sense of awareness grew and expanded, the pain did not — it dissipated, being spread so wide over the whole world, and went away.

It was waiting for me when I got back, of course, but for one thing there was less of it; for another, the break did me a lot of good.

So I’m working on expanding my awareness. It makes it easier to detach from Things — objects whose main purpose is to take up space, use up mental energy, and carry some emotional trigger that, in fact, I probably don’t need. Life is quite emotional enough without the needless triggers, thanks.

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Radiant

We got the first rain since the reactors melted down in Japan. Weather systems being what they are — global, persistent, and efficient vectors — I took that rather seriously: scrubbed the deck to reduce absorption capacity, reconstructed the cockpit cover to keep the rain off, shoved fuel and spare cushions into the hard storage area, cleaned up belowdecks so I could stand being indoors for a couple days. Also stocked up on miso and tasty seaweed treats, to protect my thyroid — damn, they’re good.

In the absence of a Geiger counter… One of the really fun things about radiation is that — like fiberglass dust — we have no good way of assessing our exposure until it’s much too late to change it. As a nurse and as a DIY boat-owner, I figure it’s reasonable to protect myself as best I can, then hope for the best.

Tech note on seaweed/thyroid remark: the natural iodine in seaweed and miso loads up your thyroid gland’s iodine receptors. This leaves no room for radioactive iodine — carried in rainwater, for instance — to glom onto you. It’s exactly the same mechanism as the benign iodine in radiation pills. The dosage is more precise with the pills, but the taste of the seaweed treats is rather better.

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Because things change anyway

As I rebuilt my posture this morning per usual, I remembered a conversation I had in my 30’s with my Shaolin teacher. I was sorting out knee issues, and after a week of working on something I hadn’t thought much about in several decades, I said in a ‘pity me’ voice, “I’m relearning how to walk.”

He shrugged, too distracted by the picayune-ness to notice the self-pity: “I’m always relearning how to walk.”

That was one of those moments that made me go away and think all the way up the thought, all the way down the thought, and all the way across it, too. (A good Sifu/sensei can do this to you, sometimes in even fewer words than that. Ted Mancuso in Santa Cruz; look him up.)

So here’s today’s update from the Department of the Blitheringly Obvious, which does a brisk trade because we are so good at not connecting the dots … Or I am, anyway:

1. Time moves.
2. We go with it.
Therefore,
3. Things change.
Therefore,
4. Our bodies alter, and take us with ’em.
Therefore,
5. We are always relearning, whether we know it or not.

Therefore…

I might as well pay a bit of attention and relearn better, instead of slipping off into relearning unconsciously and making things worse.

My posture is definitely improving. Core strength is damn good. Pants fit and my low back is MUCH better.

I haven’t worried much about my knees in ages. … Hunh.

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