I’ve watched the video at the bottom of this blog post at least a dozen times. I can’t get enough if it.
It’s from the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors. Aretha Franklin brought the house down singing You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman, which was written by honoree King and her former husband, Gerry Goffin. I love the song. I love Carole King. And I especially love Franklin’s inspired version. But those are not the reasons why the video has such an impact on me.
What gets to me is watching King, swept away by Franklin preforming a piece of work King had done almost 50 years before. And it all plays out before an audience that includes some of the nation’s most influential people in entertainment and in government swaying, clapping and singing along. Even the President of the United States seems to wipe a tear from his eye.
There’s a reason why we cry when we see sports and entertainment figures receive such well deserved adulation. We cry to share their joy, and we cry because it will never happen to us.
A great teacher may get a letter now and then from a grateful former student, but s/he’ll never be serenaded by Aretha, followed by a standing ovation at the Kennedy Center. The craftsman who tuned the piano Aretha played onstage wasn’t brought out for a bow. Nor were the cleaners and sanitation workers who regularly remove the trash and prevent the illness that otherwise would spread through such a packed concert hall.
That’s the luck of the draw. Some of us work at jobs that bring public acclaim. Some of us watch the Academy Awards and the World Cup final to experience it vicariously. I guess that’s why so many root fervently for their home sports teams.
But there’s joy also in simply having done a job well, and adulation can be a drug, a form of addiction, or attachment. “Right livelihood” is one aspect of the Buddhist Eightfold Path, grouped with “right speech” and “right conduct” as ways to live ethically.
In our modern world, I believe that right livelihood has more to do with our attitudes than with the particular type of work we do. If we work in a healing profession but do it sloppily and without compassion, that’s not right livelihood. If we work in an industry that spreads pollution but do so with integrity and set a good example, that is right livelihood.
You may know the story of the retiring carpenter:
The carpenter had been a diligent worker, but he was tired and ready to retire. His boss was sad to lose him but asked him to stay on long enough to build one more house. The carpenter agreed, but with his mind on his pending leisure he cut corners and did an all-around sloppy job. When he was finished, his boss told the carpenter that the house he had been building was for him, a gift for so many years of good work. The carpenter was embarrassed and wished he had done a better job.
To my mind, right livelihood is about taking your ethics and your wisdom to work with you every day. It would be fine to be celebrated like a sports star or entertainment figure for doing that, but it brings its own karmic rewards.
— Mel Pine (Fearless Lotus)
Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine