The rain is coming down. Hard. All I can think of is the thirsty little thirty three acre parcel between railroad tracks where I spent the last month and a half toiling over native Wood Roses, Sword fern and Oregon Grape. My time there is finished. Sort of. Can one ever really be finished with a place and time where we grow through doing hard time? I volunteered to do a field restoration with the Northwest Youth Corps meaning me and a group of seven teens would work a full day weeding a huge field by hand for five weeks. It was tough manual labor punctuated by sitting under a tarp in the dirt eating and using an outhouse. I had zero experience in such environments. I recently told my friend Shari it felt like I worked on a chain gang. But the truth is I chose to work myself into a tired, knuckle pained, dirt stained woman so I could learn from it. I wanted to try something foreign to me. And it was. It cleared me of prejudice about blue collar work and shocked my body into peace. Just yesterday the teller at the bank asked me if I was a forest ranger then he said, “You know how you feel calm when you’re in nature–and happy? You give me that vibe.” All I could think is how well that pain worked for me. Better than I expected.
This adventure came off the heels of a several month stint of sitting in a Zen Monastery and keeping house to cover my living expenses. They were both very hard in different ways.
So today I’m sitting in the New Day Bakery in Eugene around the warmth and coffee while the Rasta Soldier in his knitted beanie plays piano. I am thinking about how much those plants we protected and hand weeded around will enjoy the summer rain. I smelled the field and it’s small stream where I laid myself fully clothed on our last afternoon letting the water roll over me watching dragonflies as I washed my clothes in an electric washer this morning. The warm, soapy water will remove the smell of grass, dirt and sweat so encompassing I drowned my soul in it but I will still know those smells are there-somewhere.
I wanted to remove my sharp edges and it felt like force was the only way. You know how distance runners and bikers describe the feeling of blankness after so many blistered miles? It’s that kind of longing I had. I wanted to give not just my thoughts but my body to something and let it hurt me. I bored myself with all the self protection. I wanted to break and crack and let the light shine through. I felt like anyone could love themselves or hate themselves but could I let myself go?
I’ll lean on a crutch of a cliche and admit that only time will tell how it all comes out but in this present day I feel open and willing. Life doesn’t really wrap itself in precise bows and promise only pretty gifts and understandable conclusions but I’d say putting yourself through something that hurts, giving yourself in ways unexpected has it’s unquantifiable rewards. I was afraid to be stupid and clumsy. But after bumbling my way through the strong and silent beauty of the Zen Center and throwing myself into manual labor with kids I couldn’t understand- I learned. Stupidity has its value. Not knowing forces humility and banging my body against my resistance stripped away layers of hardness. I felt pieces falling away like the shell I built from plaster cracked open and revealed my nakedness. It hurt like hell yet I recommend it if you’re ready.
There’s also a secret back story to all this. I stayed with my daughter, grand daughter and son in law on this latest adventure of labor. What I’m about to say is a heads up to those of you with children. Grown children are not the same as your little ones. They have ways of doing things that are different than you might expect. They really are not the same person they might have been when they slept under the covers you bought for them. I had to be patient and relentless with myself to get the fullness of that truth. There is love but not sameness, there is loyalty but it’s not necessarily agreement.
As an example, my mother to this day wishes I was a devout Christian. But I am not and can’t be if I am to remain true to me. It took me more than thirty years to sit by her and sing “The Old Rugged Cross” at my dad’s memorial service without harboring rebellion and it took her the same amount of time to accept the lyrics mean something different to her than to me and no amount of discussion would change that. But we did get there and I was holding her hand at the service knowing I love her no matter what we may disagree about.
It was only two weekends ago when we finally held the memorial and parted with my father’s ashes eighteen months after he died. We let them go in the Puget Sound and I held mom on the beach kissing her forehead. My grand daughter was there too and without realizing it she sat in the sand so close to where we tossed his ashes the current brought them back to wash over her feet. She dusted off his remains and joined us with an enthusiastic hug declaring, “love sandwich!” She is growing up in a different environment than my mother, me or her mother. But she will be fine.
There are so many ways to be happy. There is so much to bless you. Sometimes we can only see that by cracking ourselves wide open and letting the light shine through.