The Encounter

“Any vision of utopia is an illusion because the Earth is the testing ground for the human spirit. So what would that mean? What would it mean if what what we were meant to do was not save the world or stave off the apocalypse… but rather to participate in the encounter with love, and act from there?” (Conner Habib)

I’ve been living and studying and living and studying. This is the dance of my days, going out into it and then curling up again and thinking on everything. I live a very active but contemplative life, and I’m starting to consciously engage with its rhythms. My spiritual practice has heightened, which is something I seem to share with a bunch of my friends who are all on or around the cusp of turning 40. Perhaps the tools that got us by in the past are showing their limits.

My dad, having a good day watching the recent solar eclipse.

I’ve been inundated lately. I might call it my own tiny personal apocalypse. My dad’s stroke late last fall was a big event, and it affected a lot for my family. His recovery has been steady and very hopeful but also challenging for everyone, especially my mother. My dad’s occasional bouts of depression and despair have been understandable but very challenging for all of us (although I do hope that he’s turned a corner in this area, he’s been doing much better lately). But you know, you never expect to sit by the bedside of your once larger-than-life dad and hear him talk about his life no longer being worthwhile. And what I’ve felt in those moments is that I can’t help him. He has to find his own new reason for living. This is his, this shadow work. We’ve all felt this way with him when he’s like this. That we can’t convince him he’s wrong or talk him out of it, as much as we wish we could. We can just love him and tell him our hopes for him, and give him over to his process.

One of the last photos I took of Polly, with a weird wad of hay in her mouth.
Polly with her kids last summer, when she was healthy.

Then late last year one of my beloved goats got sick, and she just kind of stayed sick. One mysterious thing after another, seemingly unrelated but also the timing and quick succession made me scratch my head. It all culminated in a lymphoma diagnosis. We opted to put her down before she got too much worse, since she had a mass blocking much of her throat and making it so she couldn’t swallow hay anymore, she’d just hold a wad of it in her mouth all day. It was my first time actually making a decision like that for an animal (aside from a meat harvest which feels energetically pretty different).

Baby Polly, summer of 2020.

Mixed up in there somewhere was the news that my dear sister had cervical cancer. Early stage, but needing a big surgery and lots of recovery. I was grateful to be a primary support through that recent event, and she’s healing well and has a great community and good insurance. However we found that the pathology results are worse than we hoped, and she needs radiation treatment now in addition to everything she’s just been through. It’s daunting.

Today I went out to the barn to milk and found a distressed baby, little Celeste- one of a set of triplets born here last week. She was just hollering, with no other apparent symptoms. I finished the milking and decided to take a temp. It was elevated. I was concerned about this being an issue with of one of the horn buds (we had a vet out 2 days ago to disbud, which is usually a very straight forward procedure). I called the vet’s office and they prepped some antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory, the suspicion being that this little one might be dealing with an infection. I was gone only an hour total but when I got home she was dead. She went from up and hollering to gone in such a short time. In the end I think this was a complication from the disbudding- the vet wasn’t comfortable with the tool she had and I think it was too hot and caused brain inflammation. We feel horribly that our choices likely caused this on an otherwise very healthy little baby.

I could honestly add more stories, it truly has felt like a deluge… but I think you get the picture. My heart feels cracked open lately. My edges are looking more defined, the outcomes less and less in my control, the old stories feel limited. And yet, despite my felt helplessness at times, I feel absolutely called into responsibility. I’m still needed. I still need to show up and, at the very least, I’m supposed to witness, to feel how it feels, and to love whatever is in front of me.

The above quote I scribbled down from a podcast I listened to this morning as I went to get the medicines for little Celeste. It became so much more relevant when I came home and found her. My perfectionistic tendencies aren’t present in my personal aesthetic or in my old school/work habits or any other super obvious way, but I have found that I have a pretty big save-the-world complex. Whether it lives in ideas for the future, or, as is more common in my thinking, in ideas of the pre-civ past we hope to “return” to- Utopic fantasies seem to harm my ability to show up fully in my life right now, to see the purpose and meaning in the present.

Conner Habib also has taught me some about the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, who said something along the lines of “In the future the encounter will be the new sacrament”. I’ve been thinking about that quote for a while now and I’m gaining a lot of wisdom from it, especially when it seems like so many things are going “wrong” in my life. What does each new encounter with life offer my soul? What can I offer back to life in these moments?

I was driving my sister home the other day, she was going to be reunited with her kids post-surgery. We had just heard about the cancer being in a lymph node and were feeling overwhelmed together. She shifted her attention onto me and asked how I was doing, said something that was hinting at me having too much on my shoulders. She was trying to take care of me, my sweet sister. But I don’t know what happened- we were driving in a big thunderstorm and I just started crying. I expressed that I really don’t want to be spared any of it, I don’t think any of it is unfair. I see that everything that’s happened is just an encounter with something new and part of the mystery. We talked about how everyone we love will die before or after us, but one way or another we will have to release each other into the inevitability. This is not unjust, it’s just confounding.

When we put my goat Polly down, we all stood above her grave and took a moment. She had this sweet little heart marking on her side, and we were just taking her in for the last time. I told Jeff and the kids that I think moments like that are some of the lowest. Her health journey had been fraught and tiring and we really loved her- she had a lot of personality and had taught us so much. We wondered if we’d done right by her. We were also relieved not to have to make any more decisions or fumble through any more problems. Anyway, I said something along the lines of, “Okay, so this is the moment I think we get to decide if it’s still worth it. Do you all think this is still worth it? Do we want to keep doing this? Because we have a choice. We don’t have to touch this much life.” We all said yes, and I felt a deep peace.

Is this what Steiner may have meant? Love isn’t possible in isolation, and it’s not a set of tidy instructions with pretty outcomes. If we engage with it genuinely then we are ensuring the depth of the consequences to our hearts. The only alternative is to cut ourselves off from life, to atrophy. If our spiritual job is to “participate in the encounter with love…” then that creates some pretty big shifts in my thinking about what I’m meant to do here. There’s no one for me to save, there’s no vision to uphold. Now is the perfect time to be an agent of love, no other conditions need to be met. My job is to keep growing my heart by lending it to the world. So far, I still think it’s worth it.


Latest posts by Gracie (see all)

One Comment

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *