Yesterday we harvested 8 of our ducks. The whole time my mind was swirling, finding metaphors and perspectives all throughout. I’ve learned that this is how my mind seems to operate when I’m happy and doing the work I feel like I was meant for, even if it’s hard. I can dive in, immersing myself in a very earth-bound task, and it’s in that simple physical place that I seem to find the most meaning and purpose. It’s this connection between my physical and spiritual places that aligns in a way that makes me swarm with gratitude and energy for life.
This is not to say that harvesting these beautiful animals was easy or satisfying in a way that I could categorize as “comfortable”. It is, however, starting to sync with Jeff and I in a way that is reassuring and “right” feeling. We both personally struggled against it in our own ways- I mean, we were supposed to harvest them a month and a half ago. Even this weekend after we’d committed to do it, we decided to do it on Sunday instead of on Saturday, for fairly arbitrary reasons in retrospect. The morning of Sunday we bopped around finding other tasks until we simply couldn’t wait any longer and had to scrunch it between two have-to-do things. It’s just difficult, we felt sad to lose half of our ducks, and I’m not sure that will change or should change.
Vera was angry and sad again, and I took time to sit her down and walk through all the scenarios again. Why we made this decision, why in the end it’s actually life-affirming and stimulating on a number of levels, even if it means we make a sacrifice now. We talked about how it is sad and feels serious that we rely on another creature/plant/living thing’s death in order to live, how we need to trust our own design and the design of life and find our place in it all, and to try not to contribute to the resistance that causes pain- for ourselves or others (I must add that I know there is worthy resistance against needless pain, but that’s not what we feel we are dealing with here). We gave ourselves permission to be sad, and I also asked her to be supportive of me and her dad, because it’s all hard for us too. She really got it in the end, even though it didn’t feel better. I feel like I’m teaching myself right along with her, because it’s hard to let the painful realities of true connection just sit there, in all their complexity. It’s hard not to fight against it and tell yourself stories about how you could escape these things if only this or that thing were in place or something was different. It’s hard to let it inhabit your space, to struggle against the not-knowing and surrender yourself to it.
“I think that deep in our hearts we know that our comforts, our conveniences, are at the expense of other people.” (Grace Lee Boggs)
I read this quote that a friend shared a little while ago and it really resonated with me on a number of levels. I thought: Huh. Yes. YES. Also not just human people, but like, the whole world. Everything we ever use or enjoy or consume was once ultimately rooted in a living creature rising up or laying down and surrendering its energy for another. Everything that we truly need is intimately connected to our lives through service and sacrifice and death. We are so very connected to this, and we are indebted to it. Ultimately we have to give it all back. And when the reality of this cosmic service is close enough to confront you personally, I feel like the only honest response can be gratitude. Gratitude is the antidote to apathy. It just must be. It’s the great call and response- the universe breathes life into us and we exhale a big thank you. Or we don’t, I suppose. But I want to. And I’m finding that, ironically, I need to sever the connection to things that ask me to compromise this other connective energy. It’s overwhelming, but I’m finding that in this culture, that disconnecting force takes the shape of so many things. The shape of my life and relationships is changing in response to this calling, and it is uncomfortable at times.
Anyway, I’ve thought through all the scenarios I could think of to let me off the hook- to save me from the discomfort of confronting the service of others. I mean, taking the simple example of what we eat. I can’t find any scenario in the food system as ethical as just bringing it all the way home, right in front of our faces. I suppose this is a post for another day, but from ideas about a chicken sanctuary to pondering veganism/reliance on agriculture to as local-as-can-be options… I just can’t feel as sure about the choices presented as I can with the one that brings me personally to the earth, to the ax, to the taking of a life for my own. I know this connection holds so much wisdom for me. I could choose ignorance, but I also think that dampens my spirit in a way. This is a way that offers me relationship, and that feels different from any of the other choices I had before.
I can feel it bringing me along into something holy. Something beyond but also a part of me. Holy- a word that used to make me a bit squirmy and self-conscious… and I suppose it still does. But it feels fitting and I can’t find another word I like as much. And, oddly (and maybe morbidly) enough, it’s a word that pops into my head when I am carrying a duck that I knew when it was tiny as can be, that I nurtured and witnessed and enjoyed so much through its life, and then in a final moment when I thanked it for its life and felt scared and then overwhelmed and then humbled. It’s what I thought about when I realized, through that activity, that I’d slipped into a level of mindlessness again when I ate food and moved through my days. I felt repentant and then amplified, like I could maybe try to remember how big and wonderful and awe-inspiring this life is, both in its sorrows and its joys. It was an exercise that made me think about instituting blessings before our meals, even though I dropped that practice years ago when I was just a kid, believing it to be antiquated.
All afternoon I was mentally playing this song that I love. It felt extra significant as we switched gears after the ducks and went to a memorial service for a precious lost child in our community.
Yes we will leave here without a trace
Take a new name and an old shape
I’ll be no outlaw, no renegade,
Just your faithful god of loss.
Today I feel like it’s possible to find gratitude in those dark spaces- to allow that pain and loss and all of our challenges to wash over us and pull up the inevitable balancing good that “calls us on into life”, as the lovely Wendell Berry put it. I feel like I need that faith in life these days, and a faith in loss, because I believe that the challenges in front of us are great. I need to believe the work will be worthy and the love will be great. And also that, somehow, we belong to it all.