I had a change of plans this summer–well, more than one–that caused some Franciscan stirrings. When last I wrote, I was taking Latin this summer. But avid readers know that, due to California state budget cuts, I lost my teaching job teaching English online for a California community college as an adjunct professor. I decided that it would be better to find a job, any job, this summer to pay the summer bills, rather than study Latin.
I ended up finding two jobs, since one of them just didn’t have enough hours to generate enough income. My second job this summer is at Sterling Memorial Library, the main library at Yale University, where I work in copy cataloging. My job (drink some coffee before you read this so you don’t fall asleep) is to take a book off the truck, scan the bar code, see if the record that is called up on my screen matches the book in my hand and has sufficient detail. If it does, mark it and put it in a pile. If it doesn’t, go look in the OCLC world catalog database for the book, and if there’s a record with matching, sufficient data, overlay that record over the insufficient one in the Yale database. Eso es. Grab another book and repeat for hours and hours at a student hourly wage.
This is very, very similar to the first work-study job I had as an 18-year old freshman at Northwestern University many years ago. That job was so boring that I often fell asleep, and the catalog librarian would stand over me and yell that she wasn’t paying me to sleep on the job. Fortunately, I found another job my sophomore year.
It was difficult for me to reconcile myself to the fact that I was doing the same job I had done thirty years before as a college freshman, for not much more money. Just two months ago, I was teaching college freshmen. And I loved doing it. And I got paid more to do it.
And these books that I am cataloging–well, they are the kind of books I would be reading as a graduate student, or assigning to my students as an English instructor, or perhaps writing myself. I have been given trucks and trucks of Latin American publications to catalog because I read Spanish, and so books about art, politics, religion, geography, history pass through my hands, as do poetry chapbooks, novels, and some books whose genre I hesitate to guess. Antología mínima del orgasmo comes to mind. I trust you do not need me to translate the title.
As you can imagine, the job feels several steps down, and several decades away, from what I am used to doing. I do this job alongside Yale freshmen and sophomores, and sometimes the fulltime librarians do a double-take when they see me sitting at a student workstation. What’s this… older person doing here? I imagine a lot of people who have lost their professional jobs in this economy have found themselves in a similar situation.
This is where Francis comes in. He quickly became the head honcho of a rapidly growing religious order, and he was revered by his fellow friars early on. His word was very powerful, and whatever he said was Gospel to the friars in his order. Although Francis occasionally misused this power, he also recognized that this type of adulation, influence and power was dangerous. So he counteracted it by occasionally doing the same jobs the other friars did (begging for food, working in the kitchen, ministering to lepers). He also swept the floors of local churches.
So I swept through piles of Latin American books, trying to make a Franciscan practice of it. Work is good. God is good. Paychecks are good. But then, I hit the Ecuadoran books, and I could not help feeling sad that I had to scrap my hopes of going on a mission to Ecuador this summer. I slid book after book from Ecuador under the bar code scanner and went through the usual drill:
Publisher and year of publication? Check.
Subjects in English? Check.
Annoyed that I am not in Ecuador? Check.
It’s hard when one has a missionary heart to sit at home, tied to obligations. It’s harder to do mind-numbing work, even when I am also feeling grateful in this economy that I can find work at all. The way I got through jobs like this when I was 18 was to remind myself why I was working: I am earning money for college. And Chicago!
And so, I remind myself that I love seminary, and I want to finish seminary, and any work is good work. So I chant the seminary mantra:
Love seminary? Check.
Love God? Check.
Love groceries? Check.
Repeat as necessary.