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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

Friday, July 5, 2024: We old ones have experience and history. We appreciate the younger generations for their creativity and boundless energy.



Friday, July 5, 2024: We old ones have experience and history. We appreciate the younger generations for their creativity and boundless energy.

Identity: Beyond Titles

Life is short and precious. So why on earth do we work so much? We modern-day humans seem to spend most of our time working. That may not be literally true, but that is how we feel. We may say we’re trying to reform, but we secretly take pride in being workaholics.


Our work is often how we define ourselves. “Hello, nice to meet you. What do you do?” Certain job titles are more impressive to us than others. It’s possible to make huge assumptions about a person knowing nothing more than how they answer that question.


Until a few months ago, I struggled with how to fill in forms asking for my occupation. What was it? I work all the time. I’m always busy. But I didn’t have a job description or a salary. Should I write down “farmer,” “caregiver,” “scheduler and organizer of helpers,” “solver of random problems - mechanical and/or personal”? Obviously, a title is not very important to me.


As a young person, I had the usual jobs: babysitter (I was awesome), waitress (terrible), office typist (adequate), Chicago Public Aid Caseworker (loved interacting with clients but frustrated by bureaucracy), teacher (popular), along with some colorful side gigs which I certainly am not going to mention here.


People’s lives are so much richer and more nuanced than their occupation implies. The hero of a movie I loved recently is a Tokyo toilet cleaner. Each morning in PERFECT DAYS, he folds up the sleeping mat in his simple apartment. He brushes his teeth, gets a can of coffee from a vending machine, and sets out on his rounds in a little cleaning car, while listening to his favorite old cassette tapes. There are small, polite social interactions throughout the day. After work, he rides his bike to the public bathhouse for a soak. Dinner is at a local sports bar. Back home, he unfolds his mat, reads for a while, and falls asleep content. This is not a stupid man. He had opportunities. He made his choices.


Mary Oliver (1935-2019) talks about her work as falling down in the grass and looking, looking at it all. Because of her work, she has been able to gift us magnificent poems. Her poems call attention to wonders in nature that those of us with important real work are too busy to notice.


It’s worth pondering the question, “What is our work?” For civil rights icon John Lewis (1940-2020), it was making good trouble. For my nephew, it is making music. For my favorite 3-year-old, it is imaginative playing. For some of my young adult friends, work may consist of social activism, creative pursuits in literature or visual arts, a monastic vocation, an entrepreneurial venture, military or public service. One’s work is more than a way to earn money. It’s an identity.


A person’s work may or may not fit neatly into a pre-existing category. But perhaps a topic more interesting to consider would be how we choose to spend our time in general. Duty calls. Schedules must be met. Etc., etc. Yet we would do well to remind ourselves often that time use is a choice. So is attitude. Will we meet our obligations with a sense of dread or adventure? We do have agency. In her poem "The Summer Day," Mary Oliver challenges us to answer, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I think about that a lot.


I recently learned a fun fact. Some folks are employed as “Elders in Residence.” It’s a real job. The title “Elder” implies that one has earned respect through actions and wisdom. These elders work on college campuses, indigenous community centers, and other places. Their role is to show up and be themselves. What a cool job!


I am grateful for my own cool job, President of Starcross Community. I pray for the stamina and grace to serve well. As the world changes, our community will evolve in new directions. We old ones have experience and history. We appreciate the younger generations for their creativity and boundless energy. It is delightful to be part of an intergenerational group. Some days are frustrating, but we follow our routine, appreciate the beauty and fellowship among us, and try to make the world a little bit better. Thanks to the people and environment around me, I do have many “Perfect Days.” I wish the same for you!


Sister Julie 

Sister Julie DeRossi is President of Starcross Monastic Community. She’s been at Starcross from its beginning and intends to stay there for life. She can’t believe she gets to live in such a beautiful place! Julie especially loves the olive trees, redwood forest and making friends with all the wonderful people who pass through Starcross.

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