In my twenties and thirties and forties, I was a professor.

In my fifties I was a college president.

In my sixties I was a foundation executive.

Now that I am six months away from age seventy, I’ve been promoted to “granny nanny.” But what, exactly, does that mean?

Obviously, it means helping to keep a baby happy and healthy:

Lydia and me enjoying a visit to the lovely Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Pittsburgh.

Lydia and I enjoying a visit to the lovely Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Pittsburgh.

But it means much more when the baby’s parents are in the midst of transforming an abandoned house into a home. It means scrubbing on hands and knees, washing windows, cooking meals, painting porch railings, raking leaves into bags, going on errands, cleaning AirBnB units, watering plants, and washing dishes by hand.

Stuart, putting finishing touches on the porch railings.

Stuart, putting finishing touches on the porch railings.

When I was wearing suits and going to the office every day, I gladly paid others to do this kind of work. Now, however, I am getting tremendous joy from caring for others instead of being served myself.

That joy extends to the wider community also. I’m getting to know the women and men who sit on the porch on sunny days at the nearby retirement community.

Kate and I baked cookies today and want to share them as Christmas presents for neighbors.

On my walks with Lydia, I am usually in no rush.

We stop to chat with strangers who seem interested or look lonely. When they brighten up, we are rewarded.

Lydia smiles, gurgles, giggles, and laughs all day long. She is my calling card.

Friendship Perk and Brew opened a few months after we arrived in Pittsburgh. An easy walk from our house, this blend of coffee shop and bar feels like Cheers to us.

An easy walk from our house, Friendship Perk and Brew, a blend of coffee shop and bar, feels like Cheers to us.

How to describe the source of this joy, this jubilación, in small acts of service, especially when I spent a great part of my youth and early adulthood trying not to be dependent upon manual labor?

Fellow blogger (The Tent Soloist) Liz LaFarge, at age 81, wrote a post about making curtains several months ago that explains much of what I am feeling. She travels the country in a camper named Scamp, and decided to solve the need for privacy by making a pair of opaque curtains on her own, buying a new sewing machine, finding.thrift-store sheets, and then tackling the task of construction.

She wrote: “I was surprised by the sense of potency this small project gave me.”

A retired psychotherapist, cellist, mother three adult daughters living on three different continents, LaFarge could have solved the problem of translucent curtains by much easier methods.

Instead, she chose her own labor, brought back memories of her teenage love for sewing on an old treadle machine even while she was learning to operate a new one.

After she hung the curtains, she was so pleased that she started vacuuming, a task she had gladly turned over to others previously. It was a luxury not to have to clean. Now, however, she felt the opposite way: “I think maybe I’ve had enough of luxury. Now a sense of accomplishment, no matter how small, is more satisfying to me.”

Reflecting on what she had learned, she settled upon the idea of self-knowledge: “I understand so many things more clearly now, including myself … For me, at this age at least, feeling useful outweighs comfort and luxury.”

I don’t think I’m quite at the stage LaFarge is describing, but I’m close enough to understand the feeling-good-by-feeling-useful part. Of course, I’m planning some vacation time later this winter, and I don’t think I’ll have any trouble enjoying a little luxury!

How do you feel about being useful? Has it given you a sense of potency? Has that sense changed over time?

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