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….
The art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on. ~Henry Havelock Ellis
…God’s not nonexistent; He’s just been waylaid by a host of what no one could’ve foreseen. He’s got plans for you…
…it’s true that my Virginia creeper praises Him, its palms and fingers crimson with applause, that the local breeze is weaving Him a diadem… ~Jacqueline Osherow from “Autumn Psalm”
With what stoic delicacy does Virginia creeper let go: the feeblest tug brings down a sheaf of leaves kite-high, as if to say, To live is good but not to live—to be pulled down with scarce a ripping sound, still flourishing, still stretching toward the sun— is good also, all photosynthesis abandoned, quite quits. Next spring the hairy rootlets left unpulled snake out a leafy afterlife up that same smooth-barked oak. ~John Updike “Creeper”
The Virginia Creeper vine, its crimson leaves crawl over the brow of our ancient shed like a lock of unruly hair or a flowing stream. This humble building was a small chapel a century ago, moved from the intersection of two country roads to this raised knoll for forever sanctuary.
It is befitting that every fall this former church, now empty of sermons and hymns, weeps red.
Each winter the stripped bare vine clings tightly through thousands of “holdfast” suckers. The glue keeps the vine attached where no vine has gone before. Once there, it stays until pulled away; it becomes an invincible foundation to build upon in the spring.
Do not despair in this austere winter. The Lord has plans and will not be moved or ripped away, even when His name is removed from schools or public squares, He’s holding on, waiting on us, waiting for the spring and won’t ever, no never, let go.
All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on. ~Henry Ellis
The Virginia Creeper vines,
stripped bare by winter,
cling steadily in winds and rain
through thousands of tiny “holdfast” suckers.
The glue holds tight, taking the vine
where no vine has gone before.
Once there, it stays put–
an invincible foundation.
Letting go comes as
spring and summer surge forth
through the veins of the vine,
branches and berries
dangle daringly in mid-air,
reaching for the next grab-hold,
the next surface to be conquered.
I wish I were as adventuring
as I creep through my days.
My fingers and toes tend to
cling fast to home,
to become adhesive
for what grows from me,
from which a glorious and unforgettable
autumn is flung
into the future.