Little Epiphanies

Dec 1, 2010
One of the things I enjoy about reading so much is being able to get little moments of epiphany from just about anywhere. I was reading the first Cadfael book a couple of weeks ago, for instance, when an offhanded remark managed to highlight for me the important distinction between a worldview based on hierarchy and a worldview based on community.

The Cadfael books are a series of murder mysteries by Ellis Peters, which are really just as much about medieval monastic culture in England-almost-Wales as they are anything else. Cadfael, played brilliantly by Derek Jacobi in the TV adaptation, is a former Crusader who joined a monastery when he decided he was too old to go about soldiering any more, and now he's the go-to guy for mysteries, interpersonal politics, and forensic investigation.

Cadfael was born Welsh, and in the first book, Prior Robert (a Norman by birth) has decided that what their monastery needs is a saint to look over them, and he's decided upon a little Welsh saint from just over the border, so Cadfael goes with him to keep an eye on things, and to translate. This is just as well, since Prior Robert runs into some resistance from the locals, including Rhisiart, the most prominent landowner in the area.

And there's this little aside in one passage -- I don't have the book to hand, so I can't quote it directly -- about how Rhisiart and Robert are just never going to understand each other, since they're driven by such separate things. Robert comes from a world of hierarchy, where what he wants is to be more important than someone else, which he's trying to do by acquiring a saint to bring honor to their monastery; Rhisiart comes from a world of community, where what he wants is to play his particular role to the best of his abilities, because it doesn't matter if a landowner is more important than the man who drives the cattle or the woman who makes the honey or the priest who tends the church, because the community can't work without all of them doing their jobs.

And I realized, that is what I want out of my life. I want to be the person doing my job to the best of my ability, because it doesn't matter if someone else is more important, the whole system falls down if I can't do my job. Now, the world is a bigger place than it used to be, so one person not doing their job isn't as big of a disaster, but it all contributes. Every little bit helps. And I don't have to be hierarchy-important, I just have to be community-important.

Which is just as well, because librarians don't get paid much, and out-of-work librarians get paid even less. I'm still waiting for a job -- well, working for and waiting for, I'm writing job applications like crazy again. I'm not completely unemployed, I did manage to find a job that actually manages to be somewhat relevant in addition to paying my rent, but it's not quite the same. And it's hard, in this world where "what you do" means "what your job is," to keep doing your work when it's so hard to find someone who will acknowledge you for it. But every little bit helps, and every little epiphany puts me a few steps closer to being able to stand up on my own, to hold up my end of the community even now, in the darkest times.

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