Saturday, March 5, 2011

Doing What We Do

I was singing "The Way You Do the Things You Do" today, a hit single recorded by The Temptations on the Motown label in 1964. Written by Smokey Robinson, then a member of the Miracles, it was the first song by the Temptations to hit the Billboard Hot 100. The Temptations. It’s worth checking out. You’ll even see Muhammed Ali dancing in the ring as well as the Temptations doing some pretty cool, smooth moves.

I was sixteen when the song came out, and Motown was Hometown. Detroit. We were all swept up in the Motown Sound at the time and I didn’t know anybody who couldn’t lipsync every word to the Supreme’s “Stop in the Name of Love” or Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.”  Motown was everything to us (until Bob Dylan entered our lives).

So why was I singing “The Way You Do the Things You Do” today? Because a neighbour completed an extraordinary and impressive adventure yesterday – something I’d never dream of doing in a million years. So it begged the question,  “Why do we do the things we do?” The song popped into my head simultaneously. For all those who remember it, try it now (or in the shower later) with the new words “Why Do We Do the Things We Do?”  Works perfectly, doesn’t it?

Ok, so what did Tom do that led me to ask the question? I’ll let an article in today’s Toronto Star  explain:

A Toronto Island resident has become the oldest person to row across the Atlantic Ocean, landing in Barbados Friday after rowing 12 hours a day for 52 days.

“We’ve been looking forward to getting here,” Tom Butscher, 67, said from his hotel in Port St. Charles, just hours after reaching dry land.

He completed the more than 5,000 kilometre journey from Morocco to Barbados  aboard Big Blue, an ocean rowing catamaran.

Butscher, a former Canadian long-track speed skating champion and   father of two who has already rowed solo across Lake Ontario, set out Jan. 11 with 15 other          crew members. They rowed for two hours and rested for two hours, 24 hours a day to try to break the world record of 33 days to row across the Atlantic.

Understand the question now?  Why do we do the things we do? Why did Tom row the Atlantic? Why did Sir Edmund Hilary decide at the age of 33 to be the first non-Sherpa to climb Mt. Everest? Wildly impressive feats (congratulations Tom!), but as I’m not much of an adventurer into the unknowns, I can’t rightly say why someone chooses to do these things. While I’m hugely impressed and cheered Tom on every inch of the way, I think both he and Hilary were a little nuts, probably saying as much about me as it does them.

A friend recently told me about a conversation he had with his eleven year- old, a good swimmer. He suggested she join the school swim team. “Why?” she asked. If you ask why and don’t have an answer like Hilary “Because it’s there,”  (referring to the mountain and obvious need to conquer it), the answer can only be, “beats me.” 

You either have drive to do something or you don’t. If you have to ask why you’d want to be on a swim team, it’s probably best you’re not on it. Someone with a little more of a competitive spirit might be preferable.

So that brings me to the rest of us. Do our minds lead us to the things we do, as in “no matter what it takes, I’m going to learn to milk goats.” Or do our hearts, souls or talents send us in certain directions. Are mathematicians born or made?  Do priests, rabbis and imams have spiritual natures the rest of us don't? What if we’re not ambitious or competitive by nature. What role does that play in determining our life calling or passion. Nature or Nurture? Born To Be Wild? Goat Milker?

I think my daughter may have chosen to go into social work because she grew up in a house with a brother with ‘special needs’. But she also has the skill and compassion for it. Did she develop them living in our household or was she born with them?

It's marvelous when we find our calling(s) and true passions. Everyone counsels young people to “Find Your Passion” before making a career decision. They're right. If it's possible. Sometimes a person’s passion doesn’t identify itself as early as we might like. I know adults (including myself), who still periodically ask what they're going to be when they grow up.  Many of us change course mid-career, go back to school when we’re 80, write our first novel at 70 and find other heretofore unsung talents later-in-life.

So nothing’s fixed. We all have great potential. But I assume our potential lies more in some areas than others, though that shouldn’t necessarily stop us from following our passions. I took up the viola at age 59. Talent, skill or aptitude didn't enter into it. Only desire.

I think it’s marvelous that we do the things we do, and equally marvelous that those things are so diverse. What would we do if people didn’t decide plumbing, tuba playing or surgery were their true callings (or best way to make a living)?

And for all those folks out there who aren’t exactly sure what it is that they do, I'd like to share with you a note I wrote recently to our neighbourhoold e-group after the death of an older woman in our community who we all loved.

“I walked into the Rectory one day a few years ago when Deenie was 
having lunch. She waved when I came in and motioned for me to come to 
her table. She reached her hand out, took mine in hers, and said. "I 
really don't know what it is you do, but I really like the way you do 

I wasn't sure what she was referring to, just thanked her for saying something so sweet and kind. I didn't bother telling her that I 
didn't really know what it was I did either. I just took the 
compliment. Coming from her, it made me feel like a million bucks."

So keep on doing the things you do. The way you do them.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you - I really needed the encouragement... And to think I was of the opinion that I did nothing :)

    I love the anecdote abou the swim team.

    And I really love what Deenie said to you. I sure love the way you do it, too.