When my brother-in-law brings home a $4.99 roaster from the grocer, he will eat what he can and toss the carcass without much distress. But when he cooks up one of his homegrown chickens, he takes care to extract every bit of meat from the bone and then makes broth with the carcass.
Same animal protein. Two different approaches.
We were talking about this during Memorial Day after a raccoon busted up my cooler and ate about five pounds of home-cured, home-raised bacon we had brought camping.
Deep breaths. It still hurts a little bit to talk about that.
But I do the exact same thing, don’t you? If I work for something, I approach it differently. With reverence. And fear. Fear that I’ll fail it somehow. And as more of our Daily Consumption is the result of hours, days, weeks, sometimes a whole year of time and attention, you don’t care about things any less. Loss just hurts a lot more.
Things happen. Each pound of cheese left on the counter overnight; each bunch of kale that wilts in the fridge; each freshly painted wall vandalized by toddlers with markers … It’s all a sucker punch to the gut. And it can be paralyzing.
WHY AM I DOING ALL THIS?
But I’m getting better at it. I’m starting to accept my fate. I’m writing a book on the matter titled, “My whole life is pointless toil, AND YOU CAN, TOO!” Because let’s face it: I must spend my days redoing everything that has been undone until it needs to be done again.
“There’s always going to be another mountain. You’re always gonna wanna make it move …”
Hanna Montana is my spirit animal.
The point is this: Cows are going to bust in and ruin a garage you spent all night organizing. Those tomatoes you lovingly watered twice per day for three months? They are going to be drowned by summer floods. Those huge pigweeds you just pulled out of the ground? Their absence will allow the sun to shine on smaller pigweed. And then the little pigweed will get bigger and you’ll halfta pull ‘em out again. There’s no stopping it!
Everything turns to dirt! All your life’s work is meaningless! Time ruins everything! And Maybel is waiting to eat whatever time has forgotten!
I’ve just written the book of Ecclesiastes, haven’t I? Was there an evil bulldog in Ecclesiastes?
Anyway, since we’re stuck in this trap, in a world without preservatives, rebuilding everything that is broken, losing all of the hard work, watching helplessly as the fruits of our labors rot on the vine or sours in the fridge … If this is the set of our lives, we might as well make the most of it, right? RIGHT!?
The keys to happiness are as follows: Observe children. Take pictures if you must. Video. They know how to live happily in the moment better than anyone on the planet, regardless of the world of shit that is falling down around them. Slow down and try to enjoy the toil. There will always be more of it and it will never be done, so no point in being miserable. Be joyful on those occasions that something is not wasted or lost or broken. The half-hour window where you pick a raspberry at its peak stage of ripeness. Ten minutes after you’ve finished mowing the lawn, and you crack a beer feeling like Mother Nature is totally under your control.
Loosen up on your grip a little, OK? You know what? Why don’t you just skip the middle man and take that heritage-breed maple-cured, apple-smoked bacon directly to the raccoons?
Of course, I don’t do any of these things. I scream and I swear and I break things that I’ll just have to fix later. Sometimes I cry, and most of the time I spend at least a few hours being more angry than this peaceful rural life is supposed to call for. I snap at my kids or ignore them. I pound on the steering wheel of my tractor and scream, “I hate you guys and my whole life!!” to a pair of confused bovine. I slam doors. I mean, if we have doors installed at the time.
But my God is merciful and I get other chances.
Sometimes, and this has been happening more often lately, when things go wrong, I can sneak in a breath. Usually it’s cheating because there is a rainbow or Eleanor’s just caught a lightening bug or a berry-stained girl named Molly says she can’t sit still because she is “full of dances” or something, but sometimes I can resist the urge to react violently. And in that space, which also doesn’t last very long, by the way, but sometimes a peace can take hold. And for a second, I can say, “You know what? That’s OK. We’ll just put that up again tomorrow.”
And then I feel like the most powerful person in the universe.
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