What is Our Real Work?

The Real Work
Wendell Berry

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.


May in New Delhi, India, and the heat grows beyond 100 degrees.  Monsoon season is on its way. Eliot said “April is the cruelest month,” but in New Delhi, India, it is May. Dusty, and dry, shabby, the earth is forsaken of the flower blossoms that a month ago brought thousands out to Lodhi gardens and the presidential palace to gaze in awe as they glowed under the sunlight. May is difficult. It the ending of the school year, the end of a cycle, and it makes me reflect on my work as a teacher, so when I came across Berry’s poem a few weeks back, and read the line, “the impeded spring is the one that sings,” it made me consider how what I perceive as difficulties might be telling me about what the real work of my life is. Difficulties can be an opportunity to practice thinking and living differently from the habitual ways. They can also point us in a new direction. Maybe the hard things in our lives are really pointing us toward something new that wants to be born, something we have not been noticing or paying attention to.

My first year living in Delhi, my husband Michael and I noticed how all the trees on our street were losing their leaves, and we thought that they were dying. We felt very sad to see them go. Little did we know the trees were merely losing their leaves so that the yellow blossoms could break forth. The trees have to lose their leaves so they can do the next part of their work–make blossoms. I’m looking forward to the blossoms, but first I need to go inside those things that seem difficult and ask myself what they are telling me.

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