What is a ‘hard life’?

As we await the arrival of yet another new life into the family, I have been watching my grandson.  His constant chatter, his unwavering trust, his energy, his enthusiasm – ah, youth.  That empty canvas awaiting life to make its strokes – long, short, jagged, sweeping- onto the frame that will become our life-long perspective. Will those strokes be vivid and vibrant?  Will they have depth and character?  Or will they be vapid and only barely cover the surface with pretty colors lacking any substance?  How can I, as a grandparent, encourage the full depth and range of a decent human being to be framed within that canvas?  What do I have to teach him; what good can I etch into his soul-frame?

When he was very little, he and his mother came to stay with me at my small farm for a while.  He learned to help me gather kindling all bundled up, in the snow – something as a little native Floridian he was not previously exposed to.  Watching him discover snow, its softness, its cold, and its fun, was like watching myself inside a tiny child’s body.  I still have that same kind of wonder and excitement when a snow comes.  How can I impart to him the ability to maintain wonder and curiosity well past the age when those things dry up and crumble away, a supposed part of only childhood?  How do I teach his eyes to sweep the ground, the low hanging branches, under the rocks, to see what treasures await there?  How can I teach him to look past the current markers of success, and find what makes him a better human being?

Khalil Gibran

Khalil Gibran

One of the drivers for me personally to return to the more simple, seasonal cycle-bound lifestyle of rural living, is so that my children, and my children’s children, have a place in which to experience life differently than the current lifestyle that surrounds them at every commercial, every television show, every artful window display.  I want them to know that there is something different out there, something that provides a different kind of satisfaction.  A place where one can work with the ground, not beat it into submission with concrete, asphalt and commercial zoning.  I want them to sit with me on a porch, watch the mist rise off of the woods, see the shadows of a flock of turkeys or a herd of deer take on form, depth and substance from that shadowy essence – and to understand that this is where food comes from.   I want them to watch the cycle of an egg clutch, to a broody hen, to baby chicks, and to realize that we can have a hand in the stewardship of animals from birth to table, and that life is a replenishing thing with careful tending.  These are all quite romantic notions based deeply in my heart, and that heart echo is not easily found nor imparted on the young.  It is difficult enough to find it within those who have tasted the commercial elixir and found themselves bound to it, sometimes way past the time that the glittering surface appearance wears thin and the true face of it shows through.  By then, we are often in a trap of our own making, searching diligently for a way off of the gerbil wheel.  I have sat in a garden on an upturned bucket amongst my strawberry plants, weeding with my college-educated daughter and listened to the grumbles and minor complaints about ‘too much work’ and having dirty hands.  I have had a daughter in my kitchen, teaching her how to hand grind wheat berries into the flour by which to make a fresh zucchini bread, and heard the ‘too much work’ line, and the ‘why?’ when one can jump in the car and go buy ready-made breads.  I often consider this to be a failure on my part, until I look back over my own life and realize that I was in my forties before I grasped these things that I am trying to teach to those in their twenties, and I have hope still.   I only couch that hope in the fact that there will still be places for them to discover these things when the time comes.  I work diligently to make a dream once held in hand,  again come to fruition, so that not only can I gather my offspring into my heart, but also into the heart of the land.  If we do not allow them to touch, to feel, to embrace these things, they can never have value and the seed cannot be planted, to lie within their subconscious, breaking ground when all conditions are ripe for growth.

My life has often been called ‘hard’ by others, once they’ve learned the totality of it.  My life has been challenging, this is true.  But hard? I am not sure that is true.  A hard life to me would be one missing limbs, or eyes, or perhaps having your children murdered before your eyes, or being trapped in a body that is dead with a mind that is alive.  To me, those things are hard.  Yet there are others who have lived through these things, and survive as well.  Everything is perspective.  My children are all healthy.  My grand children, while some have minor health issues, are all developing well.

A life without challenges, without things that cause one to dig deeply into the self to find out what is in there, is often an empty life – empty of true meaning.  Often our greatest triumphs come through our greatest pains.

“Until you make peace with who you are, you will never be content with what you have.”  – Doris Mortman

Socrates made the simple statement “Know thyself.”  Two words (three in Latin).  It is my thought, that until we have been in dark and difficult places, we only know our gloss, our glib outer coating, our surface  self.  Once things are difficult, it is then that we begin to grow our bones, solidify our being, and become a force to reckon with.  For all of us, this comes at different times, driven by differing catalysts. Sometimes for some, it comes at the point of success.  Others, at the point of defeat.  Those who are greatest? Those that do self-discovery on their own, because they want to know their own mettle.  Perhaps this is why Thoreau rings so deeply with me when he says “I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately…”   How many of us live deliberately, no matter where we are?

So as I await the arrival of another small body that contains within it small pieces of me, I ponder my own life.  I reflect on my friendships, people for whom I am extremely thankful  – ones from my way-back life, and ones that have walked this growing time with me only recently.  I ponder those who have tested my mettle, and I am thankful for them too, in far different ways.  Everything that I have experienced has made me the person I am today.  And quite frankly, I like that person.

To my new descendant I can only offer little bits of insight, for I am still growing myself.   Know thyself little one.  Live deliberately. Practice kindness and empathy. Love the land and the creatures that live on it. Be the best you, that you can be.

Dawson Connor, I cannot wait to see your little rosebud mouth, to count those incredibly tiny toes and fingers, to see if my dimples make it into your face,  to marvel over the miracle of life yet once more.  I love you already little one. May peace and love surround you all of your days, may your parents value you and guide you, may your life bring you satisfaction. May the sun shine on your face and you feel the wind in your hair, may your bare feet gather the dew from the grass and may the moon and stars illuminate your imagination all the days of your life.

Bubbe, signing off.

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