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Philosophy

This is the fourth post in a series on vocation, marriage, and work.

It's important for me to define the terms I'm using in this series. When I use the words work, calling, vocation, purpose, I'm not bantering around ambiguous words and I'm not using them interchangeably. I have certain ideas in mind associated with each of these words.

I've been working at these definitions (I've spent a lot of time on this post) because I like clarity and well-defined ideas and I want readers to understand what I mean when I say things like, "I'm called to build a garden in my backyard". But I've also been working to define these ideas to help me understand where I fit in the world of income-earning jobs, careers, and vocations.

We live in a society and culture that assigns worth to individuals according to their income-earning potential, or on the flip side according to large and sacrificial acts of service for society. We also assign worth to people based on novelty and fame, and to those outstanding individuals who make a great contribution of some kind to the world.

The vast majority of us though are very normal, under-the-radar folks. Our contributions are small, our incomes are modest.

My predominant vocations have been keeping home and raising and educating children, and I am financially dependent on my husband to do this work for our family.

Over the years I have added other work to my homeschooling and homemaking; freelance writing and photography, producing and selling online and digital content, growing a blog.

My motivations for these activities has been varied. I've pursued these things because I've wanted to grow as an individual, to express my creativity and make connections. I've also wanted to earn money and help contribute financially to our household. These are all good motivations as far as I'm concerned.

But I've also been motivated, at times, to prove my worth by "producing" something other than children. I am not proud of the times I've looked for my worth in what I do. Whether I'm basing my worth in my mothering abilities, the state of my marriage, how much I contributed to the household income, or my blog visitor stats - all of it is off-base.

My worth, my value as a human, has nothing to do with what I produce, or what I contribute. It has nothing to do with being outstanding, in my own merit, in any way. My worth is grounded in my identity. And my identity is found in the redeeming love of Jesus Christ. My identity is that I am loved by God. Period. I can't seek any worthiness outside of that. I can't seek my worth in being a stay-at-home mom, a supportive wife, or an interest-led homeschooler.

Our identity is not in our callings or our vocations. Our identity is what gives us the courage to live those out but those roles don't define us. Our relationship with God is what defines us.

Who I am, as created by the hand of God, or, whose I am, is the defining mark of my worth and my value.

The Breaking helped me break from finding my identity in roles, responsibilities, and titles; from finding my identity in what I produce or how "good" I am at doing my jobs. It was a good thing. A hard thing, but a good thing.

How I define these terms: Calling, Vocation, Work, Job, Career & Mission is part of working through the post-breaking recovery.

These are my personal definitions. I'm not working for Webster, and they may not work for other people, but they make sense to me.

Calling

In my own life I have often shied away from this term because of its use within the religious and faith contexts. People say they are called to full-time ministry, called to be missionaries, called to be ministers and pastors, called to the priesthood. I've taken those beliefs and statements at face value, who am I to say a person isn't "called", but I've also been puzzled about what that means, to be "called".

I have never experienced a calling to a religious vocation. Many of the decisions I've made in my life about purpose and direction were made with cost-benefit analysis, weighing pros and cons, making lists of priorities and other such practical means. Other times big decisions arise from an inner knowing I can't explain quite so rationally, it's just something I know I'm meant to do. For me, both types of self-knowledge are ways of understanding calling.

I haven't experienced very many "aha" moments in my life with regards to calling. I haven't necessarily been looking for those moments but I do know that if I'm looking too far into the horizon, or up to the sky for inspiration I can miss what is directly in front of me.

I've come to understand calling as simply the true direction of my inner compass, in response to an understanding of who I am and whose I am.

Here's a definition, of sorts.

Calling - The things you are meant to do by virtue of who you are at your essence, as gifted and created by God, and your life experiences. A calling comes out of the unique alchemy of your values, personality, where you are in time and place, your relationships, your strengths and weaknesses. A calling is the thing you are meant to do because of who you are.

Our calling is how we show love and express the Divine in us, the unique imprint of the Creator that only our particular combination of genes, experiences, upbringing etc. can share with the world. So of course people will have similar callings, by name, but by expression it might look very different. My urban gardening, writing, homemaking, mothering, marriage (all callings on my life) will look different than yours.

Calling is not our identity, though our callings may be part of how we define ourselves. I am called to be a mom, for example, but motherhood is not my identity.

John O'Donohue says,

As water takes whatever shape it is in, So free may you be about who you become

The idea of water taking the shape of what it is in helps illustrate my definition of calling. Calling is the space we take, in the universe, in our lives, our relationships, in our work because of our shape. Our shape is who we are, that unique alchemy of values, personality, where we are in time and place, our relationships, our strengths and weaknesses.

We grow into our callings and we own them as ours not because we're called to something outside of our ourselves, but because we rise up from within ourselves to take the space, shape, and form that is ours alone to inhabit, ours alone to live. That is our calling.

Vocation

Vocation is a type of calling. I think a lot of us "get" the idea of vocation intuitively, but it's hard to articulate, at least for me. We know vocation is used to describes types of employment and income-earning, but we also recognize that not all vocations are remunerated, stay-at-home-parents and other unpaid care givers, for example. Some people work in community volunteer positions as vocations. So vocation does not equal the ability to earn income.

Vocation comes from the latin word vocare 'to call'. Often calling and vocation are used interchangeably, but I don't use them as synonymous terms.

I feel called to be a fair number of things, a partial list is forthcoming in a future post in this series. But not all of those are vocations for me.

I am called to be a mother. But I don't consider motherhood a vocation. Relationships, in and of themselves, are not vocations, but the work I do to support that relationship, to support people, that can be a vocation. I'm called to be a wife but "wifehood" is not a vocation, though the work I do to support my husband is part of my vocation.

I'm called to build an urban garden but I don't feel that gardening is a vocation. If gardening was something I did on a larger scale to feed our family or as a service to our community, in some way, than I think it could fit the bill as a vocation. As it stands now I guess it's part of my homemaking vocation.

Homemaking is definitely a vocation for me. It's been my primary occupation for nearly two decades. And I'm called to be a writer and although this doesn't earn me much money, less than a little right now, I still consider writing to be one of my vocations.

I'm currently in a place where none of my vocations earn much money, if any. And that's partially why I am here, writing this series of posts and getting stuck defining vocation. My homemaking and homeschooling vocations do not earn money, yet they are two of my life's most significant callings in a society and culture that barely recognizes this work, and even questions the validity of this work. (Don't we pay taxes to fund public schools, staffed by professionals, to educate the next generation?)

I don't feel insecure about this anymore, my insecurities have taken up residence in other places in my life. But it is something I wrestle with intellectually.

I googled the definition for vocation (that's where I learned about the latin origin) but the definition wasn't all that helpful and I flat out disagree that a vocation "is a person's employment or main occupation, especially regarded as particularly worthy". What exactly makes one type of work, and not another, particularly worthy? These are hard things to define in a post-modern, relativistic society.

So yes, vocation is hard to define but I have to settle on something, as a definition-in-progress at least, to explain what I mean for the purpose of these posts.

Vocation is the work we do that is an expression of our calling(s).

Vocation can be a profession or an occupation, but it's not a certain "type" of work or how much money you make at that job, or how "worthy" that job is.

Each one of us has some kind of vocation. We are all called by God to share in His life and in His Kingdom. Each one of us is called to a special place in the Kingdom. If we find that place we will be happy. If we do not find it, we can never be completely happy. For each one of us, there is only one thing necessary: to fulfill our own destiny, according to God's will, to be what God wants us to be.
~ Thomas Merton

It's the work you are meant to do, because of who you are (that shape you possess), that is in service to humanity. Our vocations, our work, should be of service to other people. That is one of my bias' in this discussion.

The line here between calling and vocation is fuzzy and where I draw the line may not be where others would draw that line.

Perhaps it's all a matter of degrees and steps on a spectrum. I have not provided a definition here that I am completely happy with but it's time to move on so this post get published. My clearest idea of the word vocation is that it's a type of calling though calling does not equal vocation. Vocation relates to the work we do, that is a service to our communities and our families. Or as Thomas Merton would say, our "special place in the Kingdom"

Work

Phew, moving on to easier territory.

Work - anything you set your hand, head or heart to do that yields a result; effort done in order to achieve a result or purpose. Work is not the opposite of play, play can be a type of work, learning is work. I like the precision of the scientific definition of work, work is the transfer of energy.

When I cook a meal, I transfer the energy of my hands, head and heart into achieving a result: supper. When I write, there is a transfer of mental energy, into physical energy (my fingers on the keyboard right now) to create a result: published thoughts. When my daughter learns a new chord on her guitar she uses her mind and body to transfer the energy of the idea of that chord into the reality of music. You get the idea. Our ability to produce, through the transfer of energy, is amazing.

Income-earning work is simply work that is remunerated.

I cringe at the get-to-know-you question "what do you do for work?" Not because I'm ashamed of my work but because it's such a nebulous question. Should you answer with your job title, or your vocation? Or with the thing you do to earn money? And what if your income-earning work isn't a good representation of who you are. And when people ask that question do they want to know who I really am (of which my work is a part, but not the defining feature), or do they just want to categorize me like a census-taker, "your occupation please ma'am?" (Gosh, I hate those checkboxes also. To me, housewife feels like a hideous title for my vocation.)

Part of the reason I wanted to write these definitions, crude and relative as they are, is because I feel that language and social customs haven't caught up to the reality of our lives when it comes to work, income-earning, and vocation.

People are complex and fascinating and can't be defined by what they do to earn money.

We try to define people by income-earning work, jobs, careers, vocation, in part because people seek to define themselves this way. But that is such a narrow view of understanding a person.

What are your interests? What are your callings? What does your day look like? What do you enjoy most in life? When do you feel really vibrant? How does what you do to support your family, financially or otherwise, fit with who you are? And even, yes, how does your family make a living? (As a detail person who does most of the financial bookkeeping in our home, I am always curious about what people do to earn money.) These are the questions that interest me more than What do you do for work?

I guess what I really want to ask when I meet someone, or as I get to know them, is this: tell me who you are. And in truth, that is something that not everyone wants to talk about when they first meet someone. I have to remember getting to know someone is a gift we are given over time. I probably just need to be more patient.

Job

There are two types of jobs, job as a discrete unit of work, eg. washing the dishes. And job as work defined by specific roles and responsibilities. If work is effort done to achieve a result, a job is the domain in which this work is being done.

I'm not going to spend any time discussing job as a discrete unit of work. Our entire life is composed of jobs.

I want to talk about jobs in the context of work and vocation.

I often use the word work and job interchangeably, which of course is fine if we're clear on the terms. But I'm trying to be more precise in these definitions.

I don't make any distinctions here between professional jobs (white collar work), service industry, blue collar work, academia, creative industry, etc.

The most soul-satisfying jobs, both the discrete units of work and jobs as specific roles and responsibilities, are those that enable us to fulfill our callings, in the specific work we do as part of that job. But even if the work doesn't align very well with who we are, satisfaction is also found in knowing we fulfill our callings when our work supports and provides for those we love. Because what is our calling as humans if not to take care of one another?

I think people have always sought after meaningful work but our definition of meaning changes: survival, upward mobility, freedom, service to the greater cause; the definition of meaningful work is largely generational.

Many of us place a high value on "meaningful" work, which could be defined as a job that aligns with our callings. But regardless of the type of job we have, most of us have a strong desire to provide for ourselves and our families, to support loved ones and our communities. We want to serve other people, most notably our closest kin, and we will do jobs, both the discrete kind (scrub the toilet) and the role and responsibility kind (store manager), to meet that need even when the job, which is a type of work, doesn't align with our calling.

But let's face it, we have a drive to align our inner selves with our outer actions, to seek congruence between our calling and jobs. And when we can do that, I believe that is a vocation.

So, a job can be a vocation, or vice versa, but not all jobs are vocations. And the distinction is strictly personal. Working in food service might be vocation for someone and a less-than desirable job for someone else.

Another example, teaching can be a job or a vocation. The distinction between the two is whether or not a person feels called to teach as an expression of their gifts and talents, or called to teach primarily as a means to secure an income. I don't believe one motivation is more noble than the other, more worthy. Doing a job so you can eat and so that your loved ones can have some security is a noble thing. But most of us recognize that we get more satisfaction, and the people we work with are better served, when our jobs are an expression of our callings. Interestingly, callings can shift and change in us, as we shift and change, so that we can find satisfaction and service in places we didn't think was possible.

Career

An overarching trajectory of jobs and vocations, usually related to particular skill set, experience or aptitude.

Homemaking is a career for me, so is homeschooling. I feel I haven't been at writing long enough to call it a career, but I would like to make it a career, ideally with remuneration of some kind.

(Grand) mission or life purpose

The essence of why you live. What are you on earth to do? Why were you born? This is your raison d'être.

For many people this is religious or spiritual in nature. For others it's related to service or self-actualization.

A (grand) mission is how an individual defines what it means to realize his or her potential, explains his or her existence, in the broadest terms.

Personally, my life's purpose, my grand mission, is to glorify God. That is my highest potential and my reason for being.

Since this post is a discussion of work and vocation, I should add: a person's (grand) mission and their life purpose is partially fulfilled through one's callings, vocations, jobs, work, and careers.

Micro-mission

Micro-missions are the purposes we assign to the distinct parts of our lives. You might have a mission for your income earning work. A family mission. A mission for your home.

I have a mission for my mothering, a mission for my marriage, a mission for this blog, a mission for my writing in general. And others. Some of these I've defined in writing but others have only been expressed in my heart and mind.

These are less detailed than you might imagine. Right now, my mission for marriage is to nurture friendship, kindness and respect in my relationship with Damien.

Micro-mission statements might seem like goals but for me goals are more specific. Goals are actions, behaviors, or mindsets in support of the mission.

As related to work and vocation, one's mission for their vocation is the purpose of that effort and endeavor. Why are you doing it? What ends do you hope to achieve? I don't have a written mission statement for my homeschooling work but I think our graduations goals is a type of mission statement for my work in facilitating a home education for our children.

I've struggled with writing mission statements in the past in an attempt to integrate every part of my life into one paragraph. This approach no longer seems like a good fit for me.

I have a grand mission and life purpose. And within that raison d'être my life is made up of all the things I do and who I am.

I have callings in many areas of my life, but the ones related to my roles and responsibilities in supporting our family, I define as my jobs. The work I do at these jobs contributes to the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual well-being of my loved ones. I also do work that contributes to the well-being of my community, neighborhood, church, and homeschool. Those are also jobs. Like a river fed by many small streams, my vocations are collective expression of these jobs.

All of it is work. And all work, when done with the right heart, is honorable.

Someday, fairly soon in the coming years I will have new jobs, new roles and responsibilities outside our home, that I hope will be an expression of my callings. Some of these jobs may become new vocations for me. Some of these may even earn money. Some of these jobs might be temporary projects or work arrangements that I do for a time to meet a need in our family or to fulfill a personal desire.

Everything is part of the story of my work, which is to say my life, an ever evolving journey of identity, self-discovery, and service.

For the past couple weeks I've been trying to get back into the head and heart space to return to a series I had started nearly two years ago on homeschooling through high school.

The work of homeschooling through high school is my main job right now. And of course when I say this to the uninitiated, they imagine me to be all manner of things that I am not: a high school biology teacher, English teacher, history teacher, etc... I have to explain to people, over and over again (I meet a lot of new people, which is a blessing since I love encounters with new people), I don't teach the high school subjects to my kids. In fact, I've "taught" very few subjects over the last twelve years of homeschooling.

I manage our home for learning and loving. I gather resources. I facilitate. I research ideas. I make connections. I do my best to answer many, many questions and to point my kids in the direction of the answers I'm unable to provide. But the actual teaching of lessons is not something I have done very much of in our homeschool. Nor do I lesson plan, or grade papers. I don't give assignments. It's not my style, or my strength, or my interest. If lessons are necessary I usually outsource that, to the myriad of resources readily available to homeschoolers or I search and source from obscure and not-so-obvious options.

After years of modeling this self-directed method of learning - do you want to know something? want to learn something? well, I'm certain a resource exists out there for you to learn from, a person, a course, an experience, let's find it - our scholar students do this on their own. They find resources and learning opportunities to support their goals. It's a rewarding process.

But that's actually not what I'm attempting to write through today. I want to talk about the high school blog series.

I started that series eighteen months ago. We lived on the Gaspe Peninsula. Celine was fifteen, grade 10 age. And looking back, Laurent was just about to start his transition to high school, or what we call, the scholar years.

I had envisioned writing that series as a string of posts about our experience with Celine's high school thus far. I wanted to share what it looked like have an interest-driven, love of learning, freedom mindset as we homeschooled through high school. I had a bunch of posts written in draft form and I thought I could finish them up and spit them out in a reasonable time frame. But I couldn't follow through on my plans. I was struggling with my anxiety, we moved to Montreal, and I was learning things about myself and my marriage, and I had to live and write my way through those experiences first.

And in the midst of all that our homeschool went through a big change also. We became members of a homeschool co-op, for the first time in our homeschooling experience. A most needed and necessary change for our children (that's why we moved to Montreal, to have these kind of experiences), and as it turns out, a beneficial change for me also.

Though our participation in a co-op extends me in ways that are sometimes uncomfortable (following someone else's schedule, the commute, the iron sharpening iron effect of a whole bunch of homeschool moms working together) the benefits of belonging to a homeschooling community at this stage of our journey outweigh the sacrifices required to make it happen. The sometimes difficult truth is that the sacrifices I make are part of the growth I need to go through at this stage of my life.

It takes effort, like all worthwhile endeavors, but the co-op is such a good thing for our family, for me, for our kids. The friendships, the academic opportunities, the drama production, the mentoring of my teenaged children by other adults with a similar worldview but a different way of doing things, all of which is to say, belonging to a village, has been transformational in our homeschool experience. Now that we are here and belong to this group, I can't imagine doing it any other way at this stage. I feel belonging to the co-op, which includes a substantial amount (in homeschool numbers) of high school aged kids, is a big part of what is making homeschooling through high school possible for us, especially when it comes to our youngest, who is not yet in high school, but is the most social of our kids and the most inclined to want to "go to school", if only for the social opportunities available there.

And so here I am, nearly at the end of Celine's high school years, she'll graduate next spring, shepherding Laurent through his own high school path, and anticipating what the baby's high school years will look like and thinking it is high time to get back to that series.

But it's been hard to pick it back up, as is, when so much has changed in the last couple years. I've been stumped for a while about what to do with this and feeling rather blocked. And then it came to me that I need to change the structure I originally set-up and move forward with what is, not with what was. I need to change the design.

I'm restructuring The Homeschooling through High School series from a Series to a Library.

Organizing is one of my loves. It is my happy place. It's my flow state. Which means I like to organize the heck out of my blog. The upgrade and re-launch of my blog will feature better organizing tools for me, because organizing my writing is really important to me.

The new blog (which will be a better and renamed version of my current blog) will organize posts several ways.

Every post will belong to categories, the more the merrier. Well not really, but almost. I used to feel I had to limit these and I found that restrictive for many years. And then, I was like, "this is my own damn blog, why am I limiting myself in my own space!?" So I've been adding categories here, there, everywhere. It makes me happy. But those aren't necessarily extremely useful for other people. And I want what I write here and how people find that information to be accessible, practical, and useful. And so I've created two other ways of categorizing posts - Series and Resource Libraries.

Series already exist on my blog, but not as their own tag. In their current form, series are awkward to navigate and organize. That will change.

Libraries also exist on the blog right now as "Resources". These are getting a facelift and the path to find them will be obvious. Clarity, ease of use, accessible information - all of this is really important to me. And it's coming soon. I'm so excited.

Back to the Homeschooling through High School Series. It's no longer a series. It's a Resource/Library. Currently you can find it here.

Now, instead of feeling stuck with the structure I originally created, which was linear, I can write these posts in a more organic open-ended way, jumping around from Celine in her final year, to Laurent in his first year, and soon to Brienne's transition and start of high school. Gulp. I can share the stories and philosophy of our high school experience, without worrying about where it fits into a series.

In reality, most of you probably never even notice all this organization, and may have no idea what I'm talking about. Posts appear, you read them and perhaps the fact that they are part of something bigger doesn't even register. That's ok. The structure and design matters to me and those largely unseen elements either enable and support the writing I want to do, or frustrate the process.

Which brings me to design. (Stay with me folks, it all ties together.)

I was listening the other night to an On Being podcast. Krista Tippett was interviewing Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia. One of the things that really caught my attention in that interview was Jimmy's assertion that the software design of Wikipedia is largely responsible for the type of culture and community that wikipedia is advancing. For example, much of the commenting software in the larger news and media culture relies on understaffed administrative oversight to moderate comments. The actual software design does not allow the community to have genuine control of their environment, as Wales says, "the software doesn't let me do anything other than yell at people". Wales also says this about Wikipedia software design,

... at Wikipedia, there's a lot of different options. So if somebody posts an inflammatory comment, because our comment pages are just Wiki pages — they're editable pages — anyone can come and delete a comment. And that happens quite often. If somebody comes and says something incredibly nasty, somebody else will just come along and just say — delete it and remark “removing personal attack.”... at most websites, the only people who can ban people are employees. So employees of the newspaper read all the comments, and if somebody's being really vile and abusive, they'll block them.

Well, in our case, that isn't done in the main by employees at the Wikimedia Foundation. It's done by the community, by trusted community members who've been elected and who are held accountable for how they do it. So it's a lot of things like that that mean that, in addition to having a culture that says we want to have goodwill, we want to achieve quality work here, we also have the tools, that we have other options other than just yelling at people.

This is a matter of design; the philosophy of the organization informs the software design, the software design enables certain kinds of community participation (and excludes others), and this creates a culture. Fascinating.

The structure, the design of a thing, is largely unseen but has a lot of power to either support and help achieve your aims or it can do the opposite, frustrate your efforts, cause roadblocks.

My point here is this, design matters, the structures we set up will encourage and allow for certain types of activities, and not others. Designers know this, it's probably some kind of first principle in design school. I'm not a designer, and I've never seen myself through that lens. But we're all designers at some level. We design a life. We design our homes in simple things like how we arrange the furniture. People renovate homes to improve design, they hire architects and builders. We do all this to enable certain kinds of interactions, opportunities and relationships to exist and flourish. In this way we create a certain culture in our families and communities.

After listening to that interview, I started to have a new grid, or new language even, for what it is I do as a homeschooler, how I approach this journey of lifelong learning. I tend to think in terms of management and organization, some homeschoolers think in terms of teaching and mentoring, but another way to look at is in terms or design and architecture.

All these years I've been designing a family life, a homelife, and the structures I've created, in our actual space (how we arrange the furniture) and in time (how we schedule our days, weeks, months) have allowed for certain experiences and excluded others. (And I can't say we've always included the good or the best, and excluded the worst.)

The design, whether it's intentional or not, will allow for a certain culture and climate to flourish.

This is not about having enough money to redesign your home. I live in an apartment. I'm not renovating this space. But I do have a lot of input, a lot of influence, in the design of our family life. And I'm not talking here about family mission statements. I'm talking about the "unseen" things, the way we encourage or discourage activities, behaviors and mindsets simply by how we arrange our life in time and space.

I am fascinated and inspired by the potential and opportunity that homeschooling provides families to design the life they want to live. The exploration of this, in idea and action, fires me up.

Back to the blog for a moment. I want to have a blog whose design supports my goals for publication; which is to create an intellectual and emotionally-engaging experience for readers with thoughtful, wholehearted writing and beautiful photography. And I want the organization, structure, and technology to facilitate this experience. What's so interesting is that my aims for homeschooling aren't that much different.

To wrap up, design matters. But we don't have to be a designer by vocation to take advantage of design principles in our lives. Jimmy Wales had big vision for what he was creating at Wikipedia, and the software was one of the tools that allowed for the growth of that vision. But that growth happens incrementally and each of us is on a path with the ability to make incremental and iterative changes in our lives. (That's some software speak for you.)

To get really meta here, being open to the non-linear iterative design process is a design mindset in itself.


This is a digital painting of McGill College Avenue in Montreal Quebec.
This and other hardcopy copy art is available for purchase from Laurent's etsy shop.

In a lot of areas I don't do Big Vision very well (I find them scary and intimidating), but for the things closest to my heart and the areas that I have some control over: homeschooling, marriage, and mothering I definitely have Big Vision. And design in those contexts is simply a matter of asking myself, in the daily flow of my life, does this tone of speech, pace in our schedule, expenditure, curriculum choice, opportunity, etc. move me, move my family, along the path of that vision? And if not, how can I adjust, what can I tweak in my systems, schedules, and mental constructs to be more supportive of those goals?

How can I change or improve the design to create the culture I want: in my life, in my family, on my blog, in my community.

Last Wednesday morning I went to the market. On that first day of fall, the market was a symphony of tomatoes, apples, eggplants, zucchini, chrysanthemums, basil and broccoli. As always, it was a feast for my senses and I was filled with gratitude, as I am each week, at my good fortune of living near Montreal's famous Marche Jean Talon.

I spent the afternoon in the kitchen, and didn't even mind doing so. As long as the frequency isn't more than once a week, I'm ok working for a couple extra hours (on top of my usual kitchen duties); chopping, saucing, freezing, drying, or whatever else needs to be done to make best use of that week's market haul.

I don't purposely buy produce to "process, put up, or put by". (Say that fast five times.) But I can't seem to help myself in the presence all that seasonal beauty. In my enthusiasm I over-buy and then I must deal with it.

Case in point, my kids aren't wild about eggplants, and I know this from years of experience, but I couldn't resist their luscious purple beauty at the market, so eggplant un-parmesan was on the menu. From-scratch tomato sauce bubbled, sliced apples went in the fridge for Thursday morning apple crisp breakfast, wild blueberries were drying in the dehydrator. It was that kind of afternoon.

September was unrelentingly beautiful. A tad warm if you ask me (no one has) but impossible to complain about when day after day we were graced with cerulean skies.

But the earth turns regardless. And though the days were clear, sunny and warm they were, they are, shortening. At 6:00 o'clock the sun sinks behind the horizon of three story walk-ups and maple trees in our neighborhood. The sky is still light, but in what seems an instant, that golden glow of slanted late afternoon sun is gone from the day.

It is my favorite time for photography.

Eggplant in the oven, tomato-crusted pots and pans stacked in the sink, I grabbed the camera from my desk, and ran to the community garden (called un jardin pour tous/a garden for all).

But I missed it. As I was layering the casserole, in a hurry if you must know, I kept thinking I'm going to miss it. This light will be gone by the time I get to the garden. And it was.

The weather held for a few more days and I returned to the garden later in the week. No rush this time. No eggplant, except the un-touched leftovers in the fridge.

It is that time of year, the season of mono no aware.

Mono no aware is a Japanese term. I am not a student of Japanese, the language or the culture, and I feel inadequate talking about something that I can't claim as my own, culturally or linguistically; though I can definitely claim it as my own experientially. My Japanese friend, if he reads my blog, might call me out on my mis-interpretation of this idea, "nice try Renee, but actually, it's like this...". But he would never say that, he is far too polite.

According to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, mono no aware is the pathos of things, deriving from their transcience.

I'll admit, I don't quite grasp the concept of pathos. I can't define it in my own words. But transcience, oh my do I understand that. The wikipedia definition of mono no aware helps explain it.

Mono no aware is a sensitivity to ephemera.

Sit there for a moment.

A sensitivity to ephemera.

an awareness of impermanence, or transience of things, and both a transient gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing as well as a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life.

Sigh.

I now have a phrase, an understanding, a ladder rung of an idea to define late summer/early autumn melancholy.

A few years ago I recognized this pattern of late summer melancholy in myself. (And wrote about here, here, here and here.)

I experience mono no aware most keenly in September and early October. It's not cherry blossoms that trigger for me this wistfulness and gentle sadness. It's the last cicadas and the drooping heads of spent sunflowers. It's the noticeably darker evenings and that golden glow of late afternoon. It's the first crisp days and red-tinged leaves.

It is exactly as wikipedia says: a transient gentle sadness at the passing of (summer) and that longer, deeper gentle sadness that this is the way of things.

The impermanence of summer's beauty, splendor, her majesty, is the story of us. That is the ache of course. We ache not just for a season, gone, we ache for us.

The renewal of the earth next spring, the birth of babies, the eventual redemption, permanence, of all things, all of these are so precious, anticipated, longed for, because we experience the ache of the passing, the impermanence, the transcience of things.

And there are some moments, seasons, that my awareness of this transcience is heightened, the veil thinned.

(Cue Landslide, by Fleetwood Mac.)

It is that time of year. A time for apples, eggplants (the kids are done with eggplants) and roasted tomato soup. A time to feel wistful and allow myself the gentle sadness of the passing of things.

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