My parents like to tell how three of my earliest words as a child were, do it myself! This is a sweet reflection on my deep-rooted stubborn character, which has been my greatest strength and my greatest limitation throughout life, as many deep-rooted traits can be.
This independent streak has been accepted and applauded through most of my life, especially since I’m living in the United States, where standing on your own two feet and pulling on your own bootstraps are so highly valued.
Except. It’s a fiction.
Sure, it is great to have grit and determination and motivation and resilience, and independent thought is especially rare and cherished. But you know what? We also need help.
Help from family and friends. Help from teachers and colleagues. Help from people miles away or decades past, who have built bridges or written books, or tended the land. Help from the land itself, and its creatures and its spirit.
Finally, I am starting to appreciate the help that has been there all along, lifting me up with kindness and strength and truly stunning generosity, as all the while I have been shouting, do it myself!
Dear friends, dear strangers, dear planet, dear spirit,
thank you for the help.
Some of you will recognize this distinctive illustration as being from the terrific book, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse, by Charlie Mackesy. I am grateful for two different recent gifts of this book, since as you all know, books are one of my favorite forms of help.
Yesterday I awoke to a hard rain falling on the rooftop. Safe and warm inside, I decided to venture outdoors with a book, the fantastic Under the Sea-Wind by Rachel Carson. Perhaps most important, I chose the real paper book, with pages that did not e-link to anything else. I could dive under the water with Carson’s creatures, come up gasping for air.
The descriptions in Sea-Wind reminded me of this quote from Dana Meadows, part of a beautiful poem-essay that reminds us of all the fictional categories we’ve invented to map the world. Land and sea, here and there, red and blue, me and you… all helpful distinctions at times, but all exaggerated in their definition.
Friends, we are lucky to be able to explore with our minds and with our hearts and with our feet. And when we do, we find the world is indeed magnificently organized, not in boxes and lines but in glorious swoops and swirls and webs.
Let’s not make less of it.
Let’s revel in the crisscrosses and overlaps.
Let’s delight in the edges that dissolve as we draw near.
A little while back, I was part of the terrific Voices of Nature series hosted by gifted teacher and leader Toby Herzlich. One of my biomimicry friends (thank you, S!) asked a question that I’ve carried with me these past weeks – what is it that the bees are teaching me in this moment?
There’s not much to do with bees in the wintertime – in fact, the best thing to do is to leave them alone. They are snuggled up in the hive for winter, living off of honey stores until the first blooms of spring finally arrive.
And that’s the thing. A worker bee lives about six weeks in the summer, as much as six months in winter – but in either season, life is short. She works to bring in nectar, to develop it into honey, to tend the young, to build up the structure of the hive, to defend it from invaders… and almost none of this effort will benefit her directly, or even her own generation of hive mates. Today’s honey nourishes tomorrow’s bees.
And yet she persists in her work.
Dear ones, we too are living in the structures built by our forebears, and we too are being fed by creations of the past.
Whether teaching or parenting or investing or praying, we may not see the ultimate fruits of our labor. But the question for us is the same as for the hive:
What are we creating today that will help tomorrow to flourish?
It’s a fresh new year, full of potential, full of promise.
For at least a decade, “more yoga” appeared on my new year’s list – but this was a fib, as it should have read, “any yoga.” A truly un-bendy body and flashbacks of mean girls from junior high made this entry more of an aspiration than a plan.
Finally, a wise teacher encouraged me to think of yoga not as a test but as a breathing exercise. Start with a single breath, she advised, no bending required. That single breath gives the space to begin.
I do love the fresh-notebook, clean-field-of-snow feeling that the new year brings, and the temptation is strong to fill all the pages, to cut a new path. In a time where some of our options are narrowed, this pull to action is even more powerful than usual.
Friends, this is indeed a time for action. It’s a time for progress and productivity and focus.
It’s also a time for healing and kindness and prayer.
Here, on the edge of the new year, blank notebook and open field before us, let’s pause before plunging in. We don’t have to skip straight to advanced backbends.
Let’s stretch our arms to the sky.
Take a breath.
As the year draws to a close, I start making lists, counting my blessings. Normally these lists are full of things I’ve seen and done – lots of travels, celebrations with loved ones, all sorts of buzzy activity. This year, though intensely busy in different ways, has markers that are quieter and a little harder to spot.
When I scan my 2020 photos, almost all of them are outside. Flower flower flower tree tree tree bee bee bee…This is the year that I was in my place. Not hosting or greeting. Not coming and going. Just there.
Like any newly intense relationship, there were some rocky moments: the snow in May, the windstorm that took out trees and power lines, the lost beehive. But day to day, there was a slowly growing connection. I planted tomatoes. I cut brambles. I harvested pears. I sat with my favorite trees. I walked and walked and walked.
For many of us, this year’s highlight list might be shorter, and harder to compose. But each quiet entry has a root that runs deep.
For this, we give thanks.