I came upon our ducks in frenzy. I stopped to watch as one bolted from the crowd carrying something in her mouth. It was a full-grown frog and not one that she was willing to share. I watched as she continued to elude the others while attempting to consume the now dead frog. The other ducks gave up the chase as I watched in disbelief. It was all so unexpected. Never had I thought of a duck killing and eating a full-grown frog.
Nature has surprises. Although by now there shouldn’t be. I couldn’t judge her; she was following deep seeded instincts of survival. I could feel for the frog, but the reality is the frog has its own instincts to follow.
And then I began to consider the instincts that drive us. There are many who equate the ruthlessness they observe in Nature with the ruthlessness of human beings. It is used to justify the worst of our behaviors and it is also used to justify the corporal punishments we dole as retribution. It is used to justify war, genocide and all forms of inequality. We have become adept at declaring and resigning ourselves to humanity at its worst. It is the excuse we allow.
I have come to resent that excuse. I no longer believe we must accept and follow the base instincts of life. But it does mean we must consciously choose which instincts we will follow. We must survey the terrain of our being and choose which seeds must be cared for and which seeds should be left alone.
Choosing understanding over hatred, compassion over anger, and kindness over greed can be done.
It takes practice. It takes determination. It takes courage, but it can be done.
Yes, violence begets violence, but love certainly creates love
“Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love. ” Martin Luther King (1958)
Sometimes these days I am overwhelmed by a news story, a radio sound bite or a friend’s hardship and the tears begin to rain. Thinking about this need to cry, I am reminded of an old friend who once watched me tear up. In shame I tried to cover it and she said to me, “Don’t hide those tears. They’re precious. Not everyone can cry. I wish I could.”
Or the time my Navajo mentor explained to me that sometimes “hearts have something hard inside” and we have to allow the hard place to become soft again.
So now as I learn of impending famines, countries overwhelmed, the horrific death caused by the virus, or the need of relief for our health care workers, the tears come. I don’t try to hide them. I don’t try to stop them. They are part of my heart softening. They’re part of my prayer. A prayer without words; a prayer that beckons for all that is good and right to prevail.
There is a part of us that wants to cut to the chase. It wants the political posturing to take a back seat. It wants the allure of acquiring capital to not come at the expense of the living. It wants to stop hearing, “when we get back to normal”. And it is grateful when someone acknowledges that we can create the world we know is possible, not simply default to old and decaying ways.
We have before us a great challenge and it is not in discovering a vaccine. It is to allow our humanity to replace our greed. It is to demand more from one another so the Earth can continue to heal and feed her children.
Our tears are the forebears of action that will make it right once more.
photo by Noho
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A benevolent spring is upon us. Time has come to plant gardens or to connect with those who do. Food pantries, farmers markets and Facebook pages are gearing up to share life-supporting food and information. Videos and live-streamed classes teach us how to cook and process food. There’s no reason for anyone to go hungry.
Rain seems to be ignoring us this year. It’s making it possible to repair damages from previous floods and ready our homes for any rough days ahead. There are lots of good, local hardware stores and handy people to help get jobs done. And while we are readying our homes let us think of our neighbors. There are unused houses and cabins, which could provide shelter for individuals and families who are and will be facing eviction.
Many may be facing hard times. Yet while this virus has wounded our ability to carry on as we have, it cannot keep us from cutting a path forward that may be better for all.
With the argument to reopen businesses now, we are weighing financial concerns over the value of life. There will be plenty of time to regroup our finances. Now is the time to care for the living – and that includes our health care workers. Now is the time to ensure that each of us has basic needs met. There are many fine organizations working against great odds to help those in need. Find one to support.
This is not a time to cower. It is not a time to be confused or angry. Everyone’s efforts are needed. Too many are living on the edge. We have allowed this for too long. Time to snap out of it.
Throw out the old playbook. There is a new game afoot. Help one another and enjoy all the good we have been given.
I don’t believe in the devil, but if I did I am sure he would have been the one who planted the seed “divide and conquer”. And we have fallen for it for far too long. You would think with the new reality before us, wisdom might prevail and people would resume living with kindness leading the way. You might think with this pause and forced contemplation we could come up with something far better than fear baiting. You would think with all the good news that the earth is healing in wonderful ways, we would unite and make promises to never let it go back again. You would think.
And in many cases you would be right.
This is our reality: We are getting the chance to reset our priorities. Perhaps this time we will get it right. People and the environment before profit; kindness before capital; humanity over ignorance, these should be our rallying cries.
We are learning the difference between want and need and while it is scaring the crap out of corporate capitalists, many find it liberating. Mutual aid groups are forming helping those in need, picking up the slack of a government in disarray.
The demand to release ICE detainees and elderly prisoners is on the rise along with our growing compassion. And while it may come a bit late for some, may we act to ensure that lives were not lost in vain.
We also have a bit more time to think about inhumane policies like sanctions on countries during this pandemic. Our reach of kindness cannot be limited to our country, we must rise to the reality that we are one people, one planet.
Our sickness came long before this pandemic. Fear and hatred have divided us. Let us reset our priorities. Let kindness win.
I remember a poem I wrote when I was young; it was about a cage made of human hands. It was a response to the suffocation I felt when asked to conform. From that moment of clarity, I made it my business not to get caught in the cage.
Yet through the years I have unwittingly slipped into the cage needing to find my way out again and again. There is comfort in conformity even when we know it is against our better interest. And it is not easy to stand peaceful and resolute in the face of fear and hatred.
One of the bars of the cage is the belief that we are different from one another and gives way to inequality. One bar tells us that winners have the most toys – omitting the reality that we come and go from this world empty handed. One bar is adamant that human beings are vile and corrupt and need to be controlled.
The bars are our beliefs. When we accept them as truth they trap us.
Today our beliefs are tearing at the fabric of our humanity. We give our power to the powerful and anguish as they abuse it. We wring our hands and speak with contempt, but very few take the time to examine the cage. We have built it and we accept it. And no one can save us from this cage but us.
Our heroes are dying. The emperor is exposed. The worldwide collapse caused by the virus could have been stopped before it began. Power and money grabs carry on just as we have allowed. They are empowered by the belief that the destruction of the earth and of her people is unavoidable.
Yet none of this is ordained. Humanity is calling. It’s still our choice.
Step out of the cage.
The sweetest birdsongs greeted my morning walk and the sky was the blue that I remembered from my childhood. There is less traffic on the road and fewer animals killed. The nettles are coming up enough to garnish our lunchtime quiche. For all the concern of the virus that is plaguing us, which is real, there is gentleness in this moment that is worthy of our attention.
Each day on the farm, we try to tackle a project that had previously escaped us. Today we began to fill a wound in the earth. It is erosion caused by our mules that we had too long ignored. But now we have the time and nature has supplied the means so we grabbed the window of opportunity to do a little mending.
Tasks often loom large and formidable until you actually begin them. Downed branches and dried grasses are abundant and create the perfect fill. We could also see another breach where the mules tend to walk and so we were able to mitigate that problem before it began.
And I cannot help but compare these everyday experiences to the predicament before us.
If we only listen to the pundits and the debates surrounding this crisis we may miss a very real opportunity. This is our chance to learn. It is our time to build our strengths. Our time to review what we have allowed and what could have been done differently. This may be the window of opportunity that we have long awaited.
Taking stock of our lives and everything our lives touch, making amends and mitigating mistakes before we fall prey to them again; this is the possibility before us.
We are being asked to be conscious, for ourselves and for each other.
What an amazing gift! Let us open it.
Boredom is something I whole-heartedly avoid. Luckily life keeps welcoming my attention and is willing to teach. These days the sand hill cranes are echoing through the valley as they prepare their nests and stake out their terrain. And the young trees that we planted years ago have survived the deer and our neglect as we tend to them with manure and straw and new fencing.
There are even a few stubborn chestnuts and hickory saplings still standing strong. They were planted with the knowledge that we may never see their fruit, as it may be as long as forty years before the nuts are harvested. Yet with care and love, they will certainly grace some future passer-by with a tasty bite. And that is good enough.
My mother would often use the western Pennsylvania saying, “Give it a lick and a promise.” It meant when you start something, give it your best and if you cannot complete the task make your promise to return. Well this moment of “stay in place” is revealing a lot of unfulfilled promises that need my attention. And I am grateful to be able to oblige.
Today we unearthed the tiny strawberry plants and covered them for protection. We removed bits of wood that will stand in the way of enlarging our garden and all the while kept feeding the mule tuffs of last year’s grass to make him happy.
Plants and animals are thriving. We all flourish with a little bit of love and care. This tending to life is amazingly rewarding and yields the greatest gains.
Self –care has taken on a whole new meaning. Taking time to find courage and strength to persevere and to feel love and compassion is imperative.
This moment of hardship and struggle offers possibilities that we have not yet dreamed. We cannot know what the future holds for our families, our communities or our world, but we can tend to life. Therein lies richness.