By Judy Patrick, Former CEO and President, Women’s Foundation of California
In the month of November, I attended two events that marked the end of chapters: my dear friend Sara Gould’s departure from a 24-year commitment to the Ms. Foundation for Women and my long-time friend Shirley Guenthner’s memorial service in Colorado.
While very different people, both of these women connect me to a poem I love: To Be of Use, by Marge Piercy. They exemplify what it is to lead lives of dedicated service to a cause. Both women would harness themselves to whatever needed to be done and do it, regardless of the task.
As the poem describes, they pulled “with massive patience, strained in the mud and muck to move things forward – and they did it again and again.” They took on things that were difficult, yet worth doing well and did them very well. Both of them have left legacies that have already benefited many and will continue to benefit many more in years to come.
My love of the poem and my love of these dear friends are not coincidental. I feel like I am cut from a similar fabric. I believe we are put on this earth “to be of use,” in the ways that best utilize our talents. I was raised among people who harnessed themselves to useful task-people who could be “field generals” or simple laborers.
The Women’s Foundation, through our dedicated board of directors, staff, volunteers, donors and grant partners, has harnessed ourselves to the vision of creating a California where women and their families are safe, healthy and economically secure. We have been doing this for 30 years and will continue to work in the fields of justice, passing along the “bags” that contain policy victories, groups organized to change their communities, donors leveraging their resources for social justice and leaders capable of leading the change their communities most need.
Thank you for toiling in the fields with us.
To Be of Use
by Marge Piercy
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
“To be of use” by Marge Piercy © 1973, 1982.
From CIRCLES ON THE WATER © 1982 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. and Middlemarsh, Inc.
First published in Lunch magazine. Used by permission of Wallace Literary Agency.