With visitors, Spring planting, and preparing to teach yoga, I have not had as much time to write as of late. So, in the mean time, I thought I’d share a favorite post of mine from the delightful Sarah Bessey. As a mom who has discovered tremendous joy in the inconvenient, uncomfortable, beautiful messiness of breastfeeding, I found this post to be particularly poignant:

http://sarahbessey.com/in-which-i-am-here-breastfeeding/

Enjoy!

~T

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The Beginning of You

This is a story about a great many things, but they all hinge on you. One “event” for which the anticipation of, preparation for, was wholly transformative. The aftermath equally, and certainly more actively, profound.

This is the story of you, my son. The most holy of accidents.

Wanting and needing interruption from the humdrum of our menial jobs, after the sobering discovery that four-year degrees do not guarantee occupational success in a recession, we strategically stuffed all of our belongings into a magical traveling contraption and breathed in its bubbling promise—potential.

Like many others of our generation, we gobbled up more education, hoping our intellectual gluttony would separate us from the pack, while actively ignoring our engorged student loan debt.

The magic plucked us from our arctic homeland in the Midwest and planted us knee deep in the South, a world previously only existing in a small, neglected corner of our minds—one of floating stereotypes: BBQ, bourbon, confederate flags, racism.

We followed our future through half-closed doors, prying them open with sheer determination.

I studied, puffing up my brain like an inflatable balloon. He worked, practicing his small talk over the Whole Foods register. We tried to maneuver the puzzle pieces of our lives.

And because we already had no money to speak of, we decided to risk it all by starting our own business: permaculture gardening.

We shared a scooter (you can do this in the South).

We were “figuring it out.”

I flew to Minnesota for Christmas. He stayed in Georgia for work. We reunited passionately over free, flowing champagne–New Year’s Eve.

Five weeks later, we joked. We speculated. We denied. Until one morning I woke up and could not “not know” any longer. I took the most terrifying pee of my life. I waited three dreadful minutes before shoving the positive urine stick in my husband’s sleeping face. He stammered in a hazy stupor.

We bought another test.

We went to the hospital.

They confirmed.

In silence, we got back onto our singular scooter, neither braving to utter the unified thought passing over us: Where’s the baby gonna go?

Where’s the baby gonna go?

This began a succession of sobering questions, each unmasking a new layer in which our lives were utterly unfit to host a child:

“How will I continue graduate school?”

“Who will watch the baby when our whole family lives states away?”

“How the hell are we going to afford this on our next-to-nothing, unstable income?”

Amidst these anxious queries, and a flurry of research papers, I threw up, I napped (often unintentionally), and I laughed and yelled and cried, often simultaneously.

All the while, subtly, without our knowing, this mystery inside me was changing us, creating space where there had not been space before, softening our edges.  We didn’t know yet, darling, how much we needed you. How your little life would raise to the forefront central questions of our subsistence, of what we were really doing here. The beginning of you bolstered us, emboldened us to choose. Catapulted us to a point of decision, extinguishing all luxury of hesitancy.

You were so grandly contrived.

This is not to say there was no struggle, that the reshaping of our lives came without resistance. In fact, I was quite determined to show the world I could still do and be all while pregnant. My grades would not suffer. I would maintain my summer hospital chaplaincy internship at 6-months pregnant, regardless of the weekly overnights and grieving mothers I would regularly encounter. I planned to promptly resume my rigorous course schedule shortly after your birth. You see, I could not fathom the gratification that would come from a life reframed around another. How refreshing it might be for my thoughts to be so occupied by someone other than self. {Marriage was the beginning of this lesson, but it was different. It did not demand all of me in the visceral way of motherhood.}

We then met the unexpected as our routine 20-week-ultrasound appointment rapidly deteriorated into a flurry of panic, hushed whispers, unanswered questions. You were a boy. This joyous news was swallowed up by the roaringthunderingdeafening silence. Cysts detected in your brain. An indication of CPC. Life-threatening.

And everything changed.

You were no longer an abstraction. You were our boy, our baby boy, whose life, health, was not guaranteed. How presumptuous we Americans are to assume otherwise. Nothing else mattered but holding your healthy, whole body in my arms. Knowing you would be okay. Everything else faded into Distance. They were the abstractions. You were more real than it all.

This is when we became parents.

We did everything we could to eliminate unnecessary stress in my life, to create the most hospitable conditions for your arrival. We began to re-think it all: where and how you would enter this world and the life you would inherit when you did. What did we want to be about? Birth, you see, has a weight to it and a way of putting everything else on the scale along side it.

I turned down my summer internship a week before the start date. I began to acknowledge my limitations. I finally allowed myself to be and feel pregnant. What precipitated was most surprising: in letting go of my stringent expectations, something else began to take its place. Desire. Desire to build a life from the ground up, a home made of dirt and seeds, intimately acquainted with Earth’s raw materials. These were themes we had been circling for years, but, until now, had lacked the impetus to commit.

Within weeks our fears were mitigated; the cysts no longer visible. But what was set into motion could not be reversed. The axis of our orbit had permanently shifted.

Getting into Winter

Growing up in Minnesota, I should  be used to winter…But I just never got there. I never learned to love it. In fact, I found every way I could to avoid the outdoors for those never-ending frigid months. I shunned the cold in spite of the advice I’d heard countless times:

“The winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get into them.”

The Minnesota “lifers” I know do just that: they sled, skate, pack the snow into an assorment of shapes. They get into it. And through this immersion, they are changed. They and snow have bonded. I suspect they are consoled by the realization that the fear of the cold is worse than the cold itself…I suspect. As for me, I just moved to Atlanta. Problem solved.

Until now, when I have somehow landed myself back in the Midwest. And while Southern Missouri’s winters hardly compare in harshness to Minnesota’s, this season is compounded by the utter isolation of my surroundings.

Desolate

Barren

Vacant

Apart from my husband and son, these 4,000 acres are entirely devoid of humans.

Did I mention that I’m an extrovert?

And so I have been forced to finally get into it. Into the cold, uninhabited landscape of these woods, of my self. My own snowy, untraversed terrain. The dormant, fallow land I’ve stayed clear of all these years.

What follows are a sampling of my reflections as I’ve treaded into Winter and as I’ve grappled with my new existence as a homesteader. Very little is resolved. But so far, the fear has been worse than the cold itself.


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Since being here, I have ping ponged between profound satisfaction and malaise.

We had such a lovely weekend. I felt at peace. Wildly content, in fact. My senses enlivened by my new forested surroundings. But this morning I awoke with the familiar angst that has lurked behind each of these joyous moments, waiting to subsume them. A sort of panic gurgles up inside, followed by a stream of interrogatories: “What have I done? What am I doing? Is this ALL there is? This is my life now? WHERE ARE ALL THE PEOPLE?” And I am shaken.

The quiet can be so disquieting.

Slowly, however, I am learning to listen to this angst. That it is actually trying to teach me something about myself.

It’s a vulnerable thing to be content. It means you have something to lose. You risk becoming discontent and the subsequent pain of knowing the difference. It’s far more comfortable to stay in the shallow pool of dissatisfaction than to wade into the deep waters of joy and fulfillment.


I can already tell that this place is getting into my bones. I will miss is dearly if we ever leave.

There was a lot of “filler” activity in the city, superfluous functions and obligatory gatherings I attended primarily because I didn’t have a good reason not to. If you let it, one could occupy a whole life with said activities and never actually accomplish anything real. It is impossible to get away with this degree of empty distraction in the country. The “simple life” demands a level of intentionality in every action that is both unnerving and refreshing and, one would imagine, more akin to life’s original design.

I am submitting myself to this life. To all that it means to inhabit this space. All of its terrifying goodness.


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I am being driven downward and inward. The descent is painful, but necessary. The most uncomfortable part? Hearing the whispers of love and worth as I exist apart from any kind of impressive production. There can be no “production” when no one is watching. And I have no definition of success apart from the reaction of onlookers. Here, there are no onlookers. No lookers at all.

I have never been on a silent retreat before, but I imagine it feels somewhat similar to this. My life is currently an extended silent retreat. Yes, there are interludes of noise and activity, brief bursts of energy that temporarily ameliorate the tension of silence. But when they subside, they leave me right where they found me. Unseen, in the absence of sound.


Even now, as I look out the window, the snow has started to melt. White has turned to brown and I know this means that green and glorious pops of colors will soon make their way to the earth’s surface. Spring is near, but this year I am more acutely aware of winter’s role in all of this birth. The death that leads to new life. And so I don’t want to rush past it, to circumvent the good hard work of dying the Earth has done or that I am doing. Because the truth is that I need this. I’ve needed this time of quiet bleakness to see into myself and not turn away. I would not have done it under other conditions. I’m far too distractable.

I am becoming grateful for the gift of Winter.

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“Winter clears the landscape, however brutally, giving us a chance to see oursleves and each other more clearly, to see the very ground of our being.” ~Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak.

“Alyosha stood, gazed, and suddenly he threw himself down on the earth. He did not know why he embraced it. He could not have told why he longed so irresistibly to kiss it, to kiss it all.FullSizeRender But he kissed it weeping, sobbing, and watering it with his tears, and vowed passionately to love it, to love it forever and ever. ‘Water the earth with the tears of your joy and love those tears,’ echoed in his soul. What was he weeping over? Oh! In his rapture he was weeping even over those stars, which were shining to him from the abyss of space, and he was not ashamed of that ecstasy.”                 ~The Brothers Karamozov

Holy Dishes

I have never thought so much in my life about the fundamental elements of existence: food, shelter, land. Family. All that makes up a home. And at the risk of sounding totally old-school, I don’t think our culture (rd. American) gives these essentials nearly enough consideration. I certainly have not. I have been enculturated to believe that my meals (and where they came from) and the cleanliness and climate of my home are secondary (if that) in importance to the work I am doing in the world. One can only infer, therefore, that those whose existence is “reduced” almost entirely to that which takes place in the home are secondary to those whose existence subsists almost entirely outside of it.* I have felt this way countless times, feelings only amplified by the fact that this was not the life I had planned for myself.  Plucked out of grad school in Atlanta due to a surprise pregnancy and then plopped in the country due to a surprsie job opportunity (for my husband), I most assuredly never envisioned myself with a 17-month-old in a 650 sq. ft. cabin on a 4,000 acre farm in Koshkonnong, Missouri (that’s right, there’s a real place with such a name). I can’t imagine too many people have! But even more than that, I could have never envisaged the schocking satisfaction that I would experience here.

As an aspiring academic, I have been trained to believe, primarily implicitly, that all of my most valuable activity takes place in the brain, the part of my body furthest from the ground. My hands, my feet, they do the dirty, necessary work that is utterly beneath my head to do (literally ;)). Once one is truly successful, however, one might never be subjected to the dirty work of hands and feet again. You can pay someone to do your dishes!  And I must confess, there is something quite alluring about this. Ah, to be beyond the dishes!

Maybe it is our obsession with fame and notoriety that prioritizes the work of public life over and against the quiet moments of unseen exertion. But it is rather presumptuous of us to assume that we know which parts of life ought to be elevated above the rest; in my case, to consider the business of the mind (reading, writing) superior to that of the body and the home. In doing so, one elminates the opportunity for surprise, for wonderment, and ultimately, for wholeness. Food preparation, washing dishes, and scrubbing toilets, this is not mindless drudgery to which society’s elite ought not fall prey. Rather, this work is an essential component to my wholeness. This work connects me to that which is required to make me wholly alive-my food, my cleanliness, my survival. I need to do work that grounds me, connects me to the dirt from which I came and to which I will one day return. I need to feel the hot water running down my hands as I scrub the fiftyith dish of the day. I need to know and enact the fact that I am not above such work and beyond this, that I actually require this work. I require this work for my continued transformation. For my union with humanity. And for that reason, dishes are whole, holy work.

“There is work that is isolating, harsh, destructive, specialized or trivialized into meaninglessness. And there is work that is restorative, convivial, dignified and dignifying, pleasing. Good work is not just the maintenance of connections–as one is now said to work ‘for a living’ or ‘to support a family’–but the enactment of connections. It is living, and a way of living; it is not support for a family in the sense of an exterior brace or prop, but is one of the forms and acts of love. [This] work is unifying, healing. It brings us home from pride and despair, and places us responsibly within the human estate. It defines us as we are: not too good to work with our bodies, but too good to work poorly or joylessly or selfishly or alone.” ~Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace.

“While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance this might seem a little silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions… If while we are washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as they were a nuisance, then we are not ‘washing the dishes to wash to wash the dishes.’ What’s more we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes….If we can’t wash the dishes, chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either.”~Thích Nhất Hạnh, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation.