Dr. Schweitzer was organist, philosopher, theologian, and physician. After almost a decade in the other professions, he turned to medicine at age 30, against the advice of his friends and family who questioned whether "service" wasn't already found in the professions he was currently engaged in. Dr. Schweitzer was determined to serve once he turned 30, and had his eyes set on medicine. Upon receiving his medical degree, he traveled to Africa where he founded a hospital.
A former dean, beloved by his students, shared to us that his mentor once told him there were two kinds of people: warriors and lovers. If I believe the dichotomy (and I'm not sure I do, as perhaps some of the strongest warriors are lovers and strongest lovers, warriors), I'd probably fall into the lover group. I've learned through Humans in Harmony, the nonprofit I'm working to build, that I want to do this kind of work for a long time. It's too early for me decide anything, but I'm glad to hear that Dr. Schweitzer didn't know the specific way he would serve, but he knew when the time came with focus and independence, and took a leap in doing so.
The work of the world is common as mud. We can feel like we are cogs in a broken machine. Politics. Medicine. Education. Albert Schweitzer reminds us of what seems so ordinary yet rare in our lives: that simple dedication of revering our fellow living creatures. Here is real work, the kind in this poem:
To Be of Use
by Marge Piercy
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.