This I Believe – To Work with Passion

Khalil Gibran stencil

Khalil Gibran stencil (Photo credit: duncan)

I believe that whatever work we are given to do, or we choose to do – we do it with passion!

As a young child my beloved, eccentric grandmother, Marie Kelly, engaged me in the process of reading on our weekend dates. It is to her credit, and my childhood insomnia, that I became a voracious reader.  One of the many books she read with me was Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.  She would pour us our tea, sit in her big old reading chair and I’d cuddle up close.   I know I loved the sound of Gibran’s language and thanks to her explanations and enthusiasm, his spirituality filled my heart and soul.  With time, the memory of reading with her fondly remained, but the knowledge of Gibran faded. Then in my university days I came across a copy of The Prophet in a used bookstore.  As I picked it up, a flood of fond memories – long forgotten – surged upon my heart.  I picked up the copy for $5 – an expensive indulgence. I quickly made my way back to my dorm room, made a cup of Earl Grey tea, crawled up on my bed and regressed into the memory of that day with my granny and Gibran, and my soul was rekindled with the profound philosophies of the prophet.  One chapter serendipitously fell open: On Work.

Cover of "The Prophet"At the time I was struggling with a co-actor who I was rehearsing with for a third year one-act directing project; he was one of the laziest creatures I have had the misfortune of working with, and I’m happy to say I don’t even recall his name today.  He lacked commitment and integrity in all aspects of the work – he’d come late, leave early, improv his lines, and neglect all direction given to him.  His ego was larger than his talent, yet he was not fired as it was hard to ever find an available male actor in the department. So we suffered through this insult.  The worst was when he tried to enlighten me, explaining to me that I worked too hard and couldn’t expect others to do likewise.  That put me into a tailspin as often people have questioned the passion I bring to all I do and I was left doubting my ardour for work.  But there, on that day snuggled up on my bed sipping my Earl Grey, was Gibran holding my heart, validating my “insane” work ethic:

      And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart,
even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.

It is to build a house with affection,
even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy,
even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,
And to know that all the blessed dead
are standing about you and watching.

This philosophy has driven my work life, and I do work very hard with pure love, as if I were doing it for my beloved. This value of work is a family trait. My parents were very hard-working and proud of all they did both in their professions and in the work they did at home.  My mother was an obstetrics nurse and she lovingly cared for all her patients as if they were her own: we couldn’t walk down streets without people running up to hug her and tell me how lucky I was to have her as a mom.  She gave 100% to her 12 hours shifts and if needed, never left a poor mother in labour alone if her time on the clock was over.  She is beloved for her commitment and love to those young mothers and babes.  She brought the same discipline of work into the home, which she kept clean and relatively organized for  a working mom, and all celebration was a well-crafted event.  Although my dad’s days were not nearly intense as a traveling salesman, he did everything with great passion.  He built strong relationships with his clients and there are few sales reps who could sell pickles and flour like my father.  With great pride and flare he’d design, build and maintain amazing displays in the grocer’s aisles that would inspire one to bake year round while chewing on a salty dill!  He’d chronicle his genius with photos and inevitably win all company competitions and bonuses.  Like my mother, he brought this intense work ethic into his home work – our yard was weed-free and impeccably maintained, the envy of the neighbourhood, and my few attempts at mowing the lawn would draw a scowl and frown when I didn’t run the mower in the proper lines; in winter our driveway would not have a spec of ice or snow and the snow-piles lining the drive  looked like Moses’ parting of the Red Sea, and thanks to his spirit, Santa himself would have chosen our home for Christmas.  Okay, I admit I’ve teased and complained about the intensity and OCD of my folks, but I know that the apple has not fallen far from the tree, it has only taken me decades to admit it!!  Although  it is safe to say that I have seen my share of crumbs on my floor and I have never parted the Red Sea!

When one brings great humility, effort, love and integrity to the work they do, that is a person whom I greatly respect: be it the custodian admiring the sheen of this floors or the executive offering gratitude to his staff after working himself an 80 hour week.  Our work needs to be done with passion and love.  In all my jobs, that is how I’ve tried to work.  As a teen babysitter, the parents would return to a home with the children and home happier and cleaner than when they left; then, many jobs later, I was a waitress who was honoured with a 100% tip from Al Waxman, a thanks for doing my job with such a passion that even his wife was content.  Today, I continue to work at my teaching with the same hunger and zeal that I did when I began 14 years ago.  Yet, I continue to host the assault and battery of others who tease and argue against my value of good work, yet my passion to “work with love” fuels me with resolve to follow Gibran’s advice and turn the “voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by [my] own loving.”

I believe that to work with passion is to infect the lives of others in a profoundly positive way.  As I care for and love my beloved children, Luca and Tulia, I teach them the value of doing each task with passion and integrity.  Somewhere up there my Grandma Kelly continues to smile down on me with great pride and love, especially after a productive day of work when I put on the kettle, settle into my spot, and open a book.   So I’ll conclude with Gibran’s great wisdom on the matter:

Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.

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