46: “Work For Two” (A. E. Housman)

“Say, lad, have you things to do?
Quick then, while your day’s at prime.
Quick, and if ‘tis work for two,
Here I am, man, now’s your time.”
                -A. E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad

                Housman’s poem reminded me of a line from the Pirkei Avot, the ancient Jewish “Teachings of the Fathers.” I couldn’t quite remember the line, so I asked google, “Tail head lion.” I found what I was looking for: “…be first to greet every person, and be the tail of lions rather than the head of foxes.” (Lovely). That’s what I remembered–but Google also gave me a modern reworking of the quote: “Better to be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion.” That second line, so similar in imagery to the first, suggests an opposite approach to life. It makes me wonder: when did we start worrying so much about being the head of things?
                I think we’re worried a lot. At least, I am. I’m worried about being important. I’m worried about proving myself. I’m worried I’m not enough, and if I am, I’m worried that being enough isn’t enough, I have to be recognized, too. I’m worried I’ll never be recognized. I’m worried, worried, worried. And so I try to prove myself, to force recognition, to demand my own importance. I end up trying to be a dog’s head instead of a lion’s tail.
                I’d rather be the tail. Perhaps that’s all I ever am. I’d be a fool to think I grew my garden all by myself. I have seeds because of a plant, and that kind of plant has been watered by gardener after gardener for generation after generation. It’s been watered by the rain. No matter how well I tend it, it grows because of the water I did not make, and it grows toward a sun I cannot look at.
                I think the greatest gift we can be given is good work well-suited to our hands. I’m proud when I lead, but I’m at peace when I help. I have my own projects, but there are far more good ideas than the few that will occur to me, and most good ideas take more than one pair of hands. (The projects I began that took flight only found their wings because others stepped in to dream with me). So, my friend, if there is work enough for two, here I am, ready to pick up whatever piece I can. I’m grateful for the gift: the gift of working, side by side.
                Like the seeds, we swim through time and the seasons. Like the seeds, I want to grow: not the whole world, but just my little part, my blade in the field, my leaf to sing with breathing wind.

3 thoughts on “46: “Work For Two” (A. E. Housman)

  1. Read on a sleepless, feeling lost night. Helped me, it really did. Solstice time, movement, changes, grass blades growing. Love radiating out from unknown sources.


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