In This Short Life…

In this short Life that only lasts an hour
How much – how little – is within our power
~Emily Dickinson (1292)

We think we can control so much in our short lives, but one novel virus tells us how little power we have.

May we turn over our need for control and instead relish the moment. It only comes once — blink and miss it. So don’t blink!

Using Both Hands

In the Pasture–Julien Dupre`

This is the grip, like this:
both hands. You can close
your eyes if you like. When I say,
“Now,” it’s time. Don’t wait
or it’s all over. But not
too soon, either—just right.
Don’t worry. Let’s go.
Both hands.

~William Stafford, “Survival Course” from Even in Quiet Places. 

I know well the feeling of pulling against a momentum determined to break free of the strength I can muster to keep it under control. This is how my life, personally and professionally has often felt over the decades. It seems I am barely hanging on, at times losing my grip, my feet braced but slipping beneath me.

The full-uddered cow in the painting is compelled to join her herd in a pastoral scene just across the creek, but the milk maid must resist the cow’s escape. For the cow’s benefit and comfort, she must be milked. The cow has another agenda. She has snapped her rope tie, almost pulled up the stake, and in a show of strength and determination, the maid braces to pull a much larger animal around to retie her and restore things to how they were.

The action suggests the maid may succeed, but the cow’s attention is directed far afield. She doesn’t even feel the tug on her halter. We’re not fully convinced the cow won’t suddenly pull loose and break away from the maid’s grip, leaping the stream, tail raised straight in the air like a flag of freedom.

Right now, as spring advances rapidly with grass growing thick in the pastures, our horses smell that richness in the air. Sometimes this tug of war takes place when my plan is different than the horse’s. The fields are too wet for them to be out full time yet, so they must wait for the appropriate time to be released to freedom. The grass calls to them like a siren song as I feed them their portion of last summer’s uninviting hay. They can pull my shoulders almost out of joint when they are determined enough, they break through fences in their pursuit of green, they push through stall doors and lift gates off hinges. Right now I’m barely an adequate counterbalance to the pursuit of their desires and I struggle to remind them I’m on the other end of their lead rope.

Each day I find I try too hard to restore order in my life, on the farm, in the house, in my work, with my family. I want to pull that cow back around, get her tied up and relieved of her burden of milk so that it can nurture and replenish others. Sometimes I hang on, only to be pulled roughly along on the ground, scraped and yelling in the process.

Sometimes I just let go and have to try to catch that cow all over again.

Once in awhile I successfully get the cow turned around and actually milked without a spill.

I’ve held on with both hands. I’m clasping them together in prayer and petition that I won’t get pulled into the mud. I’ve got a grip.
And maybe, just maybe, I will make cheese….

portrait of Dan’s mom, Emma Gibson, praying, by granddaughter Sara Larsen

The First Week of August

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The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer,
the top of the live-long year,
like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.

The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring,
and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn,
but the first week of August is motionless, and hot.

It is curiously silent, too,
with blank white dawns and glaring noons,
and sunsets smeared with too much color.
~Natalie Babbitt from Tuck Everlasting

 

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After a few days of milder summer respite, we’ve returned to temperatures in the nineties this week.  No one asked me if enduring such heat was a reasonable way to usher in the first week of August.

So here I sit silently rocking and sweating in the highest vantage point of this year’s ferris wheel ride, hanging breathlessly mid-air, appreciating the brief pause in the endless cycle of days.

Having just arrived at the top, I will venture to look down, knowing I am simply along for the ride, and Someone else is at the controls.  I might as well enjoy the view of all that is behind, alongside and in front of me, but especially what is below, holding me up in thin air.

All too quickly will come the descent into autumn, my stomach leaping into my chest with the lurch forward into the unknown.  As the climb to get here took so long, I am not quite ready for this inevitable drop back into the chill.

Hot or not, it’s best to celebrate this first week in August for all it’s splash and glare.  At least I’m swinging in what little breeze there is, endeavoring to capture the moment forever.

 

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In the Driver’s Seat

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I heard an old man speak once,
someone who had been sober for fifty years,
a very prominent doctor.
He said that he’d finally figured out a few years ago
that his profound sense of control,
in the world and over his life,
is another addiction and a total illusion.
He said that when he sees little kids sitting in the back seat of cars,
in those car seats that have steering wheels,
with grim expressions of concentration on their faces,
clearly convinced that their efforts are causing the car
to do whatever it is doing,
he thinks of himself
and his relationship with God:
God who drives along silently,
gently amused,
in the real driver’s seat.

~Anne Lamott from Operating Instructions

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I pray because I can’t help myself.
I pray because I’m helpless.
I pray because the need flows out of me all the time — waking and sleeping.
It doesn’t change God — it changes me.
~C.S. Lewis

 

We want to steer life in the way we want it to go:
our plans, our timing, our chosen destination,
our hopes and dreams matter first and foremost.

And then life happens and suddenly the road ceases to look familiar and we don’t seem to be going the direction we intended.

Who is driving anyway?

In my work in a University Health Center, I am see an epidemic of an illusion of control:
a tremendous lack of resiliency, an inability to ride the roller coaster of life without panic. One of the most common responses to the unexpected is uncontrollable anxiety that interferes with eating, sleeping, working, studying. A common response to anxiety is to self medicate in any way easily accessible: video games, social media, alcohol, marijuana, nicotine, sex, a friend’s prescription drugs. A little isn’t working so a lot might be better. The anxiety is only compounded and becomes deepening depression.

The sadness and hopelessness, even anger stems from discouragement over our lack of control of circumstances, feeling there is no way out and being unable to find another path to a different future. This leads all too frequently to thoughts of ending one’s life as it seems too painful and pointless to continue, and thankfully more rarely, taking others’ lives at the same time in an attempt to make sure everyone else understands the depth of the pain.

There is an epidemic of hopelessness and helplessness among our society’s young people that I’ve never before seen to this extent in my thirty five years of clinical work. To them, their debts seem too great, their reserves too limited, their foundations too shaky, their hope nonexistent, their future too dim.

Relinquishing control by giving up the driver’s seat is not in our nature. We want to be seen as competent and feel as though we are prepared to be the captain of our fate.

Instead we need to give up our carefully planned-out life to the God who created us and has it all planned for us.

We turn over the steering wheel saying: may it be to me as you say.

May it be.
Your plans, Your purpose, Your promise.
Let it be.

Even if it may pierce my soul as with a sword:
You are there to plug the bleeding hole.

And I will follow wherever you steer me.

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The Real Driver

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farmertheo1

I heard an old man speak once,
someone who had been sober for fifty years,
a very prominent doctor.
He said that he’d finally figured out a few years ago
that his profound sense of control,
in the world and over his life,
is another addiction and a total illusion.
He said that when he sees little kids sitting in the back seat of cars,
in those car seats that have steering wheels,
with grim expressions of concentration on their faces,
clearly convinced that their efforts are causing the car
to do whatever it is doing,
he thinks of himself
and his relationship with God:
God who drives along silently,
gently amused,
in the real driver’s seat.

~Anne Lamott from Operating Instructions

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