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The Meditation of Manual Labor
and the faith that comes with it.
The pandemic changed me. Just as all traumatic experiences in our lives change how we feel about ourselves and the world, something inside of me was altered. Any and all attempts to regain some sense of control failed, and as much as I tried, I could not get back into my pre-pandemic groove.
For three years, I’ve been in limbo, an uncertain period of awaiting a decision or resolution.
I’m not accustomed to waiting for anything. I find it nearly impossible to simply be. I have trouble stepping out onto a cloud of faith. I like to forge forward. I make decisions, I make resolutions. And every decision and resolution I have made since the pandemic has been pointless.
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Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht” is an old Yiddish adage meaning, “Man Plans, and God Laughs.” God’s been laughing at me for three years. He has three answers to prayer — yes, no, and not now. I can, for the most part, cope with the first two. It’s that “not now” that’s had the heavens rolling with laughter at my refusal to let go and let God.
George Carlin said, “Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward.”
I can’t even tell you how many face plants I’ve made in the last three years. God has been rolling around holding his belly in roaring laughter, tears rolling down his cheeks.
The Humor Research Lab (aka HuRL) has developed a theory that explains why it’s so funny when people fall down. Their benign violation theory proposes that something is funny if three conditions are met. First, ordinary life is somehow thrown off balance. They call this a violation — “anything that threatens the way you think the world ought to be.” Second, this violation is benign. No one gets hurt. Finally, these first two conditions must happen simultaneously.
My life was thrown off balance by the pandemic, and for the most part, our household weathered it well, without any serious hurt. And these things happened simultaneously. And the last three years, I’ve been like Buster Keaton of silent film days, again and again attempting to regain footing on a slippery slope.
Oh yes. I have been fumbling and flailing, entertainment for both God and gossips.
SIDE NOTE: If you have an issue with the concept of God, that’s fine. Simply replace my use of God with a reference at your comfort level. Universe, Wyrd, Creator, Great Spirit, etc. Some folks like to think of God as, “Good orderly direction.” I have spent twenty years trying to refer to a higher power with a politically correct reference. In the end, for me and where my faith lies, my preference is God.
Faith is important when you keep falling down. Faith and hope are the only things that keep you from just giving up and wallowing in the mud. Sometimes, yes, we can enjoy wallowing, like a pig cooling himself on a hot day. And some folks stay there. This is not my nature, and God knows that. And so he laughs.
I suppose the mudhole is better than the belly of a whale…
I recently resigned from a perfectly good job. I just. couldn’t. do it. anymore. I wanted to. This was actually the second time I resigned — the first time, no one applied for the job.
It took three months to find my replacement this time, and this week was my first week unburdened by any employment expectations. And I spent most of the week covered in dirt and soil, bringing our gardens back to life after four years of neglect.
I broke nine fingernails, have poison ivy, and legs scratched up by thorns. I have dirt under my fingernails, busted myself in the lip — carried brush and branches and bags of compost and potting soil. I have chainsawed, mowed, whacked, weedeated, dug, raked, and rooted. My back and my muscles chastise me for becoming sedentary in my employment, and my bare feet are tender again, no longer tough enough to cross the gravel driveway.
It has been glorious, and I haven’t fallen, not even once.
Of course, I worry about forfeiting a steady stream of income. We’ve become quite used to having a two-income household and rebooting my home-based business will require just as much work as reviving the gardens — if not more. I’ll need to secure new clients, market my books, paintings, and products, and urge more of you to upgrade to a paid subscription.
There are days when I have no faith. When I have given up all hope. But I find both again when I’m in the garden.
When I was young, my mother had a sign in her front flower bed that said, “He who plants beneath the sod, shows he has a faith in God.” I think it is better to say, “He who plants beneath the sod is given back his faith from God.”
Soil microbes help regulate our emotions and immune response. Getting your hands dirty in the garden can increase your serotonin levels – contact with soil and a specific soil bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae, triggers the release of serotonin in our brain according to research. Serotonin is a happy chemical, a natural anti-depressant, and strengthens the immune system.
A garden is also a prime example of good orderly direction. You plant seed, you water and nurture, and in just a few days, sprouts appear. Just as it should be. Your goal is to care for those sprouts, protect them as plants, thwart the weeds and the deer and the rabbits, to later walk the rows and reap the harvest. You hope for the best — and work for success, having faith in a future bounty.
A garden is a process of faith, hope, and dedication. And, of course, work.
Our society often defines us by what we do in our jobs. Doctor, lawyer, professor, librarian. So then, who are we when we leave those positions? Am I now a gardener? Painter? Writer? Housewife? Farmhand? And why is there so much pressure to get another “job,” and such curiosity about “what are you going to do now?”
I would like to say I have plans, and I do. But I dare not mention them aloud. With all that’s going on in this country, God might just need a good laugh, and I’m tired of falling down. Let’s just say I have faith, hope, and sprouting seeds…— and for now, just leave it at that.