Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Right Livelihood

 When I was younger, I remember hearing about the Buddhist concept of "right livelihood"--in essence, a commitment to earning a living in a way that is ethical and does no harm. Of course, I didn't seek to do harm, and I always pursued jobs that were somewhat idealistic. But as the main income earner in my family, I was practical. I did what I thought best to earn a salary and benefits.

Since E died, I've been more....free. I lost touch with my mom and dad, after they didn't do anything to support us in the moment of E's death. At that same moment, I stopped caring about many of the external trappings of success and stability. I confronted all the ways that I've lied to myself. I went through a very deep and uncharacteristic depression. I felt emptier than I thought possible. I told myself that we grieve in equal proportion to the love we feel for the person who is gone.

Eventually, I canned my "safe" job and went to work for a nonprofit that advocates for foster youth. I just didn't care anymore about doing the "right thing." I just DID--whatever I wanted, without question. I just COULD NOT sit at my desk all day anymore doing what was lucrative but meaningless.

Fast forward, and today, I got to offer a fellowship to a young man in foster care to connect him to the arts. I met this young man in one of the job programs sponsored by my new employer. He struck me as unique, and I happen to know people who can make opportunity for him in his area of interest. So I reached out and helped him get a fellowship that I hope will lead to a creative career for him. And I feel so happy and alive afterwards. The conversation with him was short and sweet. He understood exactly what was being offered, and he believed that he deserved it. It was amazing to connect someone so deserving with something so right for who he truly is.

By a strange coincidence, he shares a first name with E. But I know myself well enough to know that I'm not that impulsive, that whatever inspired me to reach out to him was genuine, not superstitious. It's just an amazing feeling to take my love for E, and all that both boys have taught me, and use it to tilt the balance for kids in foster care. I don't care who dislikes me, and I'm not embarrassed when I make mistakes. I go to work now because I believe, again, in the value of my work. It's a great feeling.

When you're acting as a parent, the foster care system and the trauma the kids endure can be so maddening. As a professional, I find I have the benefit of neutrality. I can choose to work at an abstract level, on policy, or step in on a more personal level, as I did today. I go to work eager most days, and I leave energized. I often work at night because I want to. Whether my work impacts one kid, or thousands of kids, I'm happy either way.

Every day, I call on the knowledge E. and T. taught me. Every day, I am braver than I used to be, on their behalf. I enjoy every small step forward toward a more just reality for kids who can't be raised by their birth parents. I have compassion for them, for myself, and for a world full of confusion.

In case my story has depressed or deterred anyone, I want to say that I am happy.

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