A lot of people worry about being useful. They especially worry about being useful when they’re in their 20s and they’re trying to prove themselves.
They worry even more about not being useful one day. They especially worry about not being useful when they grow old.
I am one of those people that worries about being useful. And yes, I know that usefulness is not a good measure of the value of a human life. I never have to justify my own value to anyone else. I exist for my own sake, and you exist for yours.
But there is something to be said for the power and joy that comes with having a gift to give to/exchange with the world around you. That is a core part of being human.
And fortunately, at no time has there ever been any such thing as a person who doesn’t have something to give to the world.
People are full of endless potential (which is always with you) and full of endless complexity (which you gain over time). There’s enormous value at the meeting of those two. And no matter how hard up you are, you’re never really unable to bring your potential and your complexity together.
I’ve seen this before.
My grandfather was always a provider in his life. He managed our family’s farm for decades, raised a family of four children, and then helped to raise some 9 or so grandchildren. For someone so generous and so creative as he, it must have been torture for him to lose his memory and his power to dementia in the last six years of his life.
Despite all that, he continued to be kind and cheerful, perhaps even more tender than ever, in his final years.Even as his sphere of control grew smaller and smaller, he never lost responsibility and power over how he made other people feel.
Simply by smiling and kissing our foreheads when we came to visit, he gave my family a unique, irreplaceable value which no other human could have given to us. He continued to be a provider (but in a different way).
All the rest of us can do the same, even when it seems that every gift we could give has been taken away.