A Time for Decision-making
One of my favorite moments in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” involves a stolen fountain pen. If you’ve not read — or better yet, seen — the play, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a story about making it big in business and losing yourself in the process.
In the scene I reference, Biff Loman, the eldest son of the play’s protagonist, Willy, tells his father that he no longer wants the dissatisfying life that comes with chasing the American dream. Biff looks at this talisman and realizes that it stands for everything that has kept him feeling imprisoned and like a failure. He tells the story this way:
“I ran down eleven flights with a pen in my hand today. And suddenly I stopped, you hear me? And in the middle of that office building, do you hear this? I stopped in the middle of that building and I saw—the sky. I saw the things that I love in this world. The work and the food and time to sit and smoke. And I looked at the pen and said to myself, what the hell am I grabbing this for? Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be? What am I doing in an office, making a contemptuous, begging fool of myself, when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am! Why can’t I say that, Willy?”
I had a moment like that when I was first diagnosed with MS. I asked myself if I was really pursuing the things I wanted and that would give my life meaning. And over time, I began to separate the lesser from the greater and focus only on those things that “worked” with the new life I found myself living. And am I ever grateful for that time. It changed the trajectory of my life and saved me a good deal of heartbreak.
Many people are doing just that these days — thinking about their careers post-COVID-19. They’re asking themselves if they want to go back to an office and a set schedule. They’re considering the toll commuting took on them and asking themselves if it’s worth it. In fact, so many people are reconsidering their work-life balance and what they want for their families and themselves that employers are having a hard time filling vacant positions as quickly as they would like.
And do you know what I say to that? Amen and hallelujah! For too long, we’ve all been working ourselves to death, caught in a busy whirl we could neither escape nor stop. The lockdown gave many people the space and time to, as Biff put it, “see all the things they love in this world.” And while I dislike so much that came with the pandemic — the fear, the loss, the grief — I would be a liar if I said it didn’t contain a sliver of a silver lining.
Folks have had a moment to breathe and ask larger questions that they simply didn’t have the time or headspace to answer more than a year ago. And their lives are becoming theirs again as a result. They’ve stopped grasping after their fountain pen, if you will.
I am choosing to stay with my current career and, in a couple of months, return to the office a few days a week (despite the fact that I adore working from home). Right now, it’s the best fit for my family and me, though it isn’t exactly what I want.
Some of my co-workers have decided that it is no longer a good fit, and they’re making plans to “ease on down the road,” as Michael Jackson and Diana Ross once sang. And you know what? Both are good options. It all depends on the person making the decision.
As a Christian, I’ve been thinking about Eugene Peterson’s translation of Matthew 11:28-30 in “The Message” a lot lately. In his version, Jesus says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
That’s what I want for my life and my faith. I want to “recover my life” and “take a real rest.” I want so desperately to “learn the unforced rhythms of grace” and am thankful that Christ will never “lay anything heavy or ill-fitting” on me. Such mercy! Oh, that we would all receive it — and show it to others. And this is the time to begin doing just that.
Maybe you’re like me, getting back to something approaching “normal.” Maybe you’re starting over. Maybe you’re still thinking about which way you want to go. Wherever you are, beloved, I wish you well. Take your time. Make the choice that’s truly best for you!
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