The Privilege of Work

Most people complain when they have to work on the weekend or overtime. I’m just so damn grateful for every morsel of work that comes my way. I’ll take it – any time of the day – any day of the week.

To be able to work and earn one’s own money is a joy and a privilege that most people take for granted. I know. I used to. I was often dissatisfied and I used to continually complain about my job. I did not appreciate what I had until I lost it – all.

I was a teacher. There were parts of my job I loved – like the children with their bright, young minds eager to learn. Then there were aspects of my job which I hated – like coaching netball. It wasn’t the netball that I hated, as such. It was dealing with the endless bitchiness of the competitive coaches and parents from the other schools we played against. They put so much pressure on the kids to perform well at all times. Their aggressiveness was unpleasant and it often made me feel anxious. So, I grumbled about having to coach netball every season. Instead, I should have been grateful that I was fit, active and sporty – highly capable of running around a netball court for an hour at a time, blowing my whistle. Do you have any idea how many times I have wished that I could go back? Dear God, I promise never to complain about coaching netball ever again. I’d give anything to be able to go back onto the netball court again.

I remember the deep hurt – and anger – I felt when I learned, soon after my accident, that they had found somebody to teach my class. I hated her. I didn’t even know her – I had never met her but, I hated her. How could she just take over my class and use all my stuff? How dare she? I’d better hurry up and get out of here so that I can get back to my children, my classroom and my stuff.

Obviously, a part of me understood. The kids needed a teacher. The school needed to continue functioning. Life needs to go on. Isn’t life just so cruel? One day you die – or you break your neck and wish you had died – and the very next day somebody else is doing your job. I was arrogant enough to believe that they would never find a more enthusiastic, dedicated or capable teacher. It was a harsh lesson to learn in such a ruthless way – nobody is irreplaceable. Life goes on…

I remember my bosses – the headmaster and his deputy – coming to see me in hospital, a few weeks after my accident. I was deeply touched that they had driven all the way from Nelspruit to Pretoria just to see me.

I was so glad that I was lying in bed when they arrived. I would have hated for them to see me sitting in my wheelchair – I was acutely aware of how pathetic I looked. I was so ashamed of being disabled. Besides, I still believed that I was going to walk out of that hospital. I was still very much in denial.

They looked tired – I assumed from the long trip. Later, I realised that they were under a lot of emotional strain too. Despite having a staff complement of nearly forty, we were a close bunch. It was difficult for them to see me like this. They were all devastated by what had happened to me.

Less than a month before, I had been running around the school grounds in my knee-length, pencil-skirts in the mornings, teaching a class full of kids. In the afternoons I had been in my skimpy little shorts, coaching sport on the field. I knew they often admired my sexy legs – definitely my best asset – at the time. I should have shown them off more. Hell, if I’d known I was going to be paralysed, I would have been walking on my hands.

We chatted, and laughed – but it was strained, and forced. I sensed an underlying uneasiness which I tried, so desperately, to ignore. I knew why they were really there. My boss took a deep breath Trace, I have spoken to the Department of Education and there is nothing to worry about. You are going to be medically boarded. And they will pay you out your pension.

What? Nothing to worry about? Is he freaking mad?

They tried to hide their awkwardness. But, it was obvious. I smiled and pretended to be relieved. But, on the inside, I was in turmoil. I was angry. Shit! Have I just been fired? I’ve never even taken a day’s sick leave. Just give me a break. Man. Come on! Oh God…

Selfishly, I never gave a thought of how they must have felt – or how difficult it must have been for them to deliver this news to me. I was so inwardly focused at that stage. There was just too much heartache to deal with, on top of all the physical challenges I was facing at the time. I was resentful and bitter – I couldn’t wait for them to leave. I told them I was tired. I lied. Silently, I screamed. Get the hell out of here and leave me the hell alone. I want to sleep die.

They left. I cried – hard. Oh God, just take me. Please!

That was my first painful experience of rejection, pity and of how most able-bodied people would react to me in the real world. I knew, then, that I would spend the rest of my life trying to reclaim my identity as Tracy – a woman, mother, daughter, friend, sister, lover and teacher. I longed to be employed, active and independent. I knew that I would be continuously fighting to prove my worth, to be taken seriously and be reclaiming my right to be a part of a physically functioning society.

I am so grateful to have been blessed with a good intellect. But there have been days (many) where I have wondered if I wouldn’t have been better off if I had lost my mind as well. Be careful of what you wish for, Tracy!

But, God knows, the days are so long. The boredom is enough to drive me insane, often making me grumpy and then I am really not so nice to be around. What’s the point?

After my divorce, I was so consumed by guilt that my parents had to support me financially instead of putting money away for their golden years. I scanned the newspapers, week after week, looking for a job – not only to ease the financial burden but, I craved the stimulation. I needed to find a purpose to live and pined for a meaningful existence. I don’t know what I was looking for. I mean, did I really think that I was going to find something? Oh, we are looking for a quadriplegic, paralysed from the neck down to do this work.

But, I never gave up hope of finding a job. In the years following my accident, I did some teaching in the form of extra lessons for children as well as adult literacy classes. I did some homeschooling for a number of years. I taught myself to use the computer. I started doing motivational speaking – but engagements are few and far between. I did a little writing – mainly for cathartic reasons. I dreamed, prayed and hoped (nonstop) for a real job. All I wanted to do was to go to work every single day and get paid so that I could support myself. One of my greatest fears is that I will end up in some sort of institution one-day – alone and forgotten. I am acutely aware of how privileged I am to be living in my own home with 24 hour care – a luxury that most other quadriplegics cannot even imagine. And for that, I am deeply appreciative and grateful.

Recently, I came to the conclusion that I have never stopped working. Next time, I will tell you all about the work that I have been doing. In the meantime, I’d like you to think about what work means to you and if you’d like to share your thoughts I would be happy.

About Tracy Todd (Brave Lotus Flower)

Author of Brave Lotus Flower Rides the Dragon – an intimate and inspiring memoir of a quadriplegic. Inspirational Speaker. Teacher. Counsellor. Wife. Mother. Animal lover. Although I need a wheelchair to get around, it is most certainly not what defines me.
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26 Responses to The Privilege of Work

  1. TDS says:

    I came across your post Tracy, whilst reflecting on a recent talk I attended titled:- “The Wonder of Boys”. The lecturer Louise deForest spoke about ‘the privilege of work’ as an honor to be able to contribute to our communities. Her words were for a room full of Early Childhood Educators (teachers of 0 – 8 year olds), in the context of developing an inner attitude. In the words of W.E.B Dubois: – “Children learn more from what you are, than what you teach”. As a pre-service teacher I am seeing more and more first hand the value in providing children with meaningful work to engage in and also how important it is to foster one’s own relationship and attitude towards service. “Children are ‘chomping at the bit’ to find their place in the world”, said deForest, and it is indeed a privilege to be able to show them the way with integrity and reverence.
    Thank you for sharing your story it deepens my understanding of ‘the privilege of work’. Best wishes, TDS

  2. Bill Watson says:

    Janice, my friend with MD, must share the same frustrations. She went to seminary and was ordained but it was very hard to get a job – when she had one it was very filling in many ways but so difficult in other ways and the thought was constant – “they couldn’t get anyone else so they hired me”. She lives alone but fears the day her parents die and she too might end up in an institution – forgotten. She has been and still is my inspiration.

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  5. Tracy –

    Work is indeed a privilege and one that many of us waste. I spent 10 years moaning about a great job. It was pretty pathetic. I genuinely think work is something that can bring so much pleasure and purpose into every life – it gives us a chance to change the world around us a little bit for the better. You clearly have an indomitable spirit and a determination to find way to serve and the world is grateful for that. Thanks for sharing as always – you rock.


  6. Giulietta says:

    Hi Tracy!

    Am falling behind visiting all the blogs I love. I look forward to hearing more about your work. You may or may not know, but I love to help folks find their fearless why? It becomes most evident in a person’s writings. We write about the same things over and over. In your writings, I see a theme of appreciating what you have while you have it. That’s an amazing life purpose right there!

    The reason most folks complain about work is that they are not doing their life’s work, they have been squeezed into a generic sort of someone else’s life work.

    It’s an epidemic out there. My rebel nature wants to reorganize the whole thing, work, school, careers, all of it, so people can love life.

    Thank you for yet another gorgeous and thought provoking post.

    You brighten up the world! Giulietta

    • Tracy Todd says:

      G. — Thanks for your lovely comment. Comments like yours inspire me to write more. I probably have more time than most to read blogs which I love and even I fall behind. So, I really do appreciate you taking the time to read my blog and for leaving such a lovely comment.

  7. Cat says:

    Another lovely post. I can see you as a teacher! I bet you were (and are) a very good one. In a lot of ways you still haven’t stopped working as a teacher either because you continue to teach people even miles away all sorts of lessons they wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I learn so much from reading your posts, and not things that anybody could teach like arithmetic or grammar. But wisdom that only a rare few like yourself can share. Thank you. 🙂

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Thank you Cat. And I know, from reading your blog, that you are a teacher’s dream with an open, young mind eager to learn. Thanks for sharing this journey with me.

  8. As a former teacher – and one who complained loudly about her own coaching duties – I was deeply moved by this post. I cannot imagine how you must have felt when that part of your identity was stripped from you after your accident.

    But you know, Tracy, you continue to teach with every word you write. You teach me all the time about strength and humility, humor and grace. The classroom might look a bit different, but the students are present and ready to learn!

  9. Dave Gale says:

    You really do have a knack of delivering a KITA where and when it is needed in the most unoffending way. Consider my rear end kicked. Keep ’em coming Ms Todd. I’m learning from you.

    btw – how about letting us know what kind of work you’d like to be getting more of?

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Dave – I like the idea that I can give you a KITA. *Laugh*
      Thank you for your comment.
      I’d love to do more talking, writing (?) and teaching. I’m definitely not a salesman.

  10. Jacs says:

    There is a quote attributed to Confucius: “Find a job you enjoy, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
    If that’s true, then I’m not actually working now. I derive a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction from my “job”, or playing on a computer all day, as I prefer to call it 🙂
    It’s certainly not what I dreamt of doing, as a youngster. My goals varied from being a showgirl, to a chef and even and astronaut.
    Abe Lincoln also said that people are as happy as they make up their minds to be. (That little line of truth actually saved my marriage!) In the same way, I believe, we can figure out a way to enjoy whatever job we are working at, as some people just don’t have a choice! Sometimes we need a kick in the pants to realise what we’ve got!
    Thanks for sharing, Trace 🙂

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Yes Jacs, so often it’s a mindset change that is what is necessary in life. Not always easy to do but something we all need to work on. Thanks so much for your comment. 🙂

  11. I am so grateful that Clive “introduced” me to you. Your words have a way of cutting straight through to the heart of the matter, yet in the gentlest way. It amazes me with everything you write.

    I so indentify with what you have written – perhaps from a different angle. I too am an ex-teacher – my reasons for leaving were many – and it is now almost ten years since my last days in the classroom. And I miss those kids more than anyone will every understand. Except maybe you. The relationships, the gaining of trust, the humour, the battles fought to get kids to understand they had a world of potential lying inside of them. And to this day, I see kids walking to school and wonder if their teachers know how lucky they are.

    I am so fortunate in what I do – I love so much of it – but I have never again found that sense of purpose, of *mattering*, of leaving a legacy. (I am not including motherhood here). It was hard enough to leave of my own accord, I cannot imagine what it must have felt like to have that decision made for you. And no matter how many people tell me that I am still teaching – just in different forms – it doesn’t resonate the way that being in the classroom with “my” kids did.

    Thanks for listening!

  12. I hated working for others, so I quit.

    Instead of looking for a job that someone else made, I created my own job for myself, that takes into account my unique skills and my unique requirements for how I wish to live my life.

    • Tracy Todd says:

      You are fortunate to be able to work for yourself and make a good living. It takes courage and a good work ethic to make it work. I’m proud of you. Thank you for your comments, Richard.

  13. I’ve been dealing with my own workaholic tendencies, as you know. I’ve had trouble knowing when to STOP working, because nothing in life stopped me from doing it too much. I missed far too many opportunities for love and intimacy of many kinds. You were forced to change directions before you wanted to, so I empathize with your unhappiness at that. To a lesser degree, that happens to others. They get hurt on the job, or get sick, or must quit to care for family members.

    Where I hope you and I shall meet again regarding work is at the point where we might agree that the boundary between the work that we produce inside ourselves, our maturation and understanding, and work we offer to the world outside is less distinct than we imagine. Whatever we produce within gets distributed outward. It also determines what work we will be suited for.

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Strangely enough I’ve read a number of blogs over the past few weeks about work which got me thinking about my situation. To be honest, I think what I miss the most is the stimulation and interaction. I miss the people. I miss the children. I miss…
      But, yes I do believe that I still have the potential to work. I AM working. Talk soon.

  14. Lerato says:

    I am not ever going to complain of having to go to work every morning not only because it is what pays the bills but because it is also a blessing. Unemployment is a reality for me as ever since i meet my husband his family has been financially dependant mostly on him and is not easy not only on us but i can imagine on them as well. Dependancy aint easy. I hope with time it will get better and God always makes a way, for that i am greatful

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Thank you for your kind comments, Lerato.
      Yes, you are right. Dependency ain’t easy. One of the most difficult things for me to come to terms with has been my total loss of privacy and independence.
      I pray that your burden with your parents-in-law will become easier. 🙂

  15. Chris Yelland says:

    Tracy, your writing is as beautiful and moving as ever.

    For me, work is an indivisable part of my life. My father taught me a work ethic, and it seems my children have learned it too.

    I am fortunate to have received a good education, and as I have to work, it is a great privilege being self-employed and doing something I really enjoy. Otherwise life would be hell.

    We are born with certain abilities and talents, and these need to be nurtured, at first by one’s parents, and then we forge our own destiny.

    It seems that teaching was your first calling. I don’t believe that one is born to teach, because I don’t believe in some pre-ordained destiny. But it may certainly seem that way, because teaching was such a natural fit for you.

    Now I have a feeling that your new life’s work has already begun, and is intensifying. Its not about having an 8 to 5 job, an employer, and a monthly salary.

    It’s about waking up in the mornings with a sense of mission and urgency – there are things that have to be said and done, goals to be set and achieved, people to reach.

    And your time is precious.

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Thank you, Chris. You know you that you have been instrumental in providing me with the privilege of doing the work I’m doing at present. And I am grateful to you for that.
      Yes, our time is precious. It needs to be used wisely and meaningfully. 🙂

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