WFP: What can I give back?

There’s this quote from A Language Older Than Words that has stuck with me, and I wanted to share it here.

"Part of our task as members of a community is to feed each other. I thought again of our fundamental inversion of all relatedness, of how we nearly always ask precisely the wrong question- What can I get from this?– and so very rarely the right one- What can I give back? Even when we try to learn from others, it is from this same spirit of acquisition: What can I learn from this forest ecosystem that will teach me how to manage it for maximum resource extraction? Rarely: What can I learn from this forest community that will teach me how to better serve it?" (Derrick Jensen)

This concept has stuck with me, not just in thinking about how to feed myself, but in terms of our relationships with everything. From our very basic relationship to the living world around us, to the interpersonal relationships in each one of our individual lives. I find that this tends to be a rule- the more open and giving you are to those around you, the more you will receive. It has certainly been true in my life. Growing up, shifting from having the hoards of shallow friends everywhere, to the few that you can really be at home with and have your kids call them "uncle" this or "aunt" that. For me, with giving birth, with surrendering my body to make way for new life. In nursing my children- relinquishing some of my physical autonomy for a time so that these babies can grow and become their own. In any friendship, just listening and offering empathy, physical support, whatever. All of these offerings give me an opportunity to enter into a deeper and more meaningful relationship with those who support me and give my life meaning. And we benefit from our giving, and we give for giving’s sake, all because… well, we just do. We know its value and its promise. It’s just love.

I remember my parents would occasionally make us get out and go to an open AA meeting with them when we were being really self-centered or just had a bad attitude. (For those that don’t know, my dad is 39 years sober – super awesome!- and is really involved in the recovering community around here. Both my parents go to an open talk every Saturday, where a recovering addict/alcoholic tells their story. This is the meeting they would make us go to.) I would drag my feet and mope and sulk the whole way, but at the end of it, I could not help but leave refreshed. It was almost impossible for me to sulk on the way home, try as my 12-year-old self might. Why? Because these people get together to offer of themselves to each other- words, stories, wisdom, prayers… They offer it so freely to each other, that in order to receive it you are compelled to rise to the occasion and be worthy of their gifts. This concept is part of why I think community is a large part of recovery from so many things- not just addiction. But, specifically in the recovering community, they have a huge emphasis on giving of yourself- they really seem to understand that the road to recovery is less about acquiring some secret to abstaining, and more about sharing and being of service. I wish that this concept was understood more widely. 

One of the flaws in our civilized way of thinking is by confining our communities to those exclusively of human beings. We’ve all been inculturated to believe that we are not a part of the natural world- that it exists to serve us and produce what we need. Those of us who consider ourselves environmentalists may even go so far as to say that it exists to serve us and produce what we need, but not by exploiting it. But a relationship? One where we give back? One where we leave the natural world better off than before? That doesn’t really enter our thinking. But I think it should, and would, if we built that relationship again.

I think my meager attempts at forming a new relationship with my food has helped to heal me in some small ways. My appreciation for a bowl full of tomatoes from my garden- it’s something that feels so natural and beautiful to me, but something that I never experienced before I actually put my sweat and energy into it. Or what I feel when I am cutting up peaches to store for winter, sneaking a slice here and there and feeling a new kind of gratitude for it. I definitely feel more of a bond to my food, now that I put something of myself into it.


Or watching Jeff take the eggs from our lovely chickens, and turning them into the omelet that we rave about day after day. It’s become his specialty, and it couldn’t be simpler (just eggs, a splash of fresh milk, a little cheese, a grind or two of good sea salt… it’s amazing). He’s so proud of this simple breakfast, and so am I. 

I don’t think we’d have the appreciation that we do for these small things if we weren’t fostering a new kind of relationship to them. And we’re not even there yet. I don’t think about my garden or the eggs in terms of what can I give back, but rather, how can I get everything I need without being super destructive? There’s a difference. I have so much to learn.

What are your thoughts on this?


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