–I got up.–
–I got up who?–
(Hyrum-4 with Dad)
Despite the bright blue sky and the sun’s brilliance dazzling from millions of ice crystals in the fresh skiff of snow, I felt crushed by life’s burdens as I trudged alone along Rabbit Lane. The burdens of being a husband and provider and father to seven children. The burdens of being legal counsel to a busy, growing city. The burdens of maintaining a home, of participating in my church, and of being scoutmaster to a local boy scout troop. The burdens of being human. While the sky above me opened wide to space, these responsibilities bore down heavily upon my heart. They seemed to darken my very sky.
As I was wishing it to be otherwise, a subtle impression came to my mind. It suggested that I had the power to reposition these burdens in a way so as to relieve myself of their weight. Not knowing what I was doing, I reached out with my mind and gently pulled my burdens down from over me, as if clearing cobwebs. I pulled them down to where they surrounded me, loosely, even comfortably. Some even moved under me in a supporting cloud. They danced slowly around and beneath me, holding me weightless and unburdened.
While my responsibilities had not changed, somehow their power over me had quickly and unexpectedly transformed into a subservience to my mastery over them. Rather than being a source of stress and worry, they had become a means to my success in being the best man that I can be and making the best contribution to my community and my world that I can make. The existence of my life challenges had not changed. My burdens had not disappeared. Rather, my perspective of them had somehow changed, and so dramatically as to alter their appearance and modify their nature.
Walking toward home, I knew that I would still struggle to fulfill my duties, and still grow tired with the effort. But I could begin to see a way that I might find joy in the effort, instead of suffering as if with the doomed labor of bucket-bailing a sinking ship.
* * *
The world is an awfully big place, with expanses of forest and prairie and desert, vivified by pulsing flows from glacial peaks to vast saline seas, by the breath of the sun on the water, clouds in the sky, and tearful, rejuvenating rain. The world is an awfully full place, hosting seven billion humans who each need water to drink, food to eat, energy to sustain, and who each desire a spot to call their own.
I have decided that the two hardest things in life are, first, to discover who you are, and second, to actually be the person you discover. Very often, our notion of self-identity is formed by outside influences that do not necessarily have our interest in mind. Even the strongest of us will struggle our whole lives to know who we are, to be true to who we are, and to resist the seducing and demanding voices that whisper and clamor for us to be who they want us to be.
“I am discouraged because. . . .” How often have I begun a sentence that way? My friend asks me how I am. My wife wonders how was my day. “I’m discouraged. . . .” I have said and thought this sentence so often.
There will always be a personal weakness to worry about, a problem to bemoan, a fault to fret about, something broken to fix, a debt to pay. If I strive to conquer myself but only examine what remains to be conquered, I will always feel discouraged. We need to find a way to put aside our whips of self-inflicting pain and remind ourselves of our personal victories, or our inherent human worth.
In the quiet of Rabbit Lane, I often ponder the purpose of life. Has it occurred to me that the purpose of life may be simply to live? Not just to breath and have a pulse, of course, but to live the best life we can every day, slogging through the sorrow and the suffering in exchange for hope and a greater measure of joy and contentment, seeking to attain our full potential, to find the best that is within us.
And a vital part of living is learning. What are we to learn if we are to live? Here is my idea. Learn to shun betrayal and embrace fidelity. Learn to defer shallow, selfish pleasures in exchange for paving a path toward a depth of happiness unknown to mere pleasure seekers. Learn to create rather than to be entertained. Learn to forgive and to not boil in bitter begrudging. Learn that learning is an endeavor that requires patient effort. Learn that we learn from all experience, the good and the bad, the joyful and the grievous, the sweet and the bitter. Learn that what we learn is what we choose to learn.
* * *
Without the regular addition of organic material (manure or compost), the garden turns to hard clay and grows only weeds whose roots are impossible to extract. Angie and I had an intense desire to grow a vegetable garden. This translated quite naturally into an intense need to bring in truckloads of manure. Mother, father, and six children loaded into the white pickup truck and drove to Richard’s Dairy farm for the family’s first adventure in cow manure. I can honestly say that we were excited.
With each tractor bucket load, the pickup sank lower on its springs, until I wondered if we would make it home. But the truck maneuvered reasonably well on the state highway at 60 mph.
“Mom, the manure is blowing out of the truck!” One of the children shouted.
I looked in my rearview mirror and saw, to my horror, that dry manure dust was blowing out of the truck bed, it seemed by the ton, to settle on the cars behind us. I slowed the truck to 50 mph, although this only brought the following cars closer. I discovered that manure dust flies just as well at 50 mph as it does at 60 mph. I was careful not to look at the cars as they passed us. I’m sure a few drivers waved hello.
Finally, we turned onto Bates Canyon Road, then took Rabbit Lane nice and slow, with no cars behind, and with no one caring if manure dust blew out.
Arriving at home, Angie announced happily, “Well, that was so easy, we’ll have to get more, lots more.”
“Children,” I responded, straight-faced, “I want you to know that one of the reasons I married your mother was that I knew, someday, she would have me bring home truckloads of manure for the garden.”
And I have. Except that every other time I strapped a tarp over the manure pile to avoid spraying highway travelers with manure dust.
Bringing the manure home was only half the adventure, though. Next, I parked the truck at one end of the garden, gave each child a shovel or rake, and instructed them to start digging. Some children would stand atop the manure pile pushing and digging the manure out. Inevitably, shovels would clash like swords, manure would be thrown on some poor child standing outside the truck, and harsh words would fly. Moving the truck slowly across the garden, we managed in an hour to empty the truck and spread the manure fairly evenly over the garden. Once I moved the truck too fast, and Caleb (3), sitting on the manure facing forward, somersaulted backwards right out of the truck bed onto the garden soil. Happily, again on this somersault, he was unhurt.
Dry manure is not so unpleasant to work with, despite the manure dust in the nose and teeth. Wet manure is a different proposition altogether. It is so much heavier, clumpier, stickier, and smellier. After two hours, an exhausted and ornery father chased all the children away to finish the job by himself, with manure adhering to his boots and the bed of the truck coated with a black, slimy film that resisted washing.
Each Spring I till the garden with my red, five-horsepower, rear-tine tiller. It’s a loud job, but a job that I enjoy. It takes two hours and three passes over the garden before the earth is well turned and soft. Laura (5) ventured into the garden one Spring and stepped toward me as I tilled. She reached out to me and I clasped her small hand in mine, steadying the bouncing tiller as best I could with one hand. After a minute I slipped her fingers into my back pocket and grasped the tiller with both hands. She walked with me for a few minutes, holding onto my pocket, digging her bare toes in the cool, soft soil with each step.
Holding baby Caleb in my left arm, I muscled the tiller with my right, guiding it in ever smaller circles. Caleb never seemed to tire of this, although I did. Each child has enjoyed working the tiller with me, either holding a corner of the handle and walking by my side, or walking in front of me holding the short cross bar, my legs awkwardly straddling theirs. John came to the point when he could work the tiller by himself. I instructed him about never putting his feet or hands near the turning tines. With a stout pull on the cord I started the motor, put my hand on his to engage the tines, positioned his hands up on the bar handle, and let him go. I watched closely for a few minutes, feeling satisfied that he would be fine. He smiled proudly back at me as he followed the tiller around the garden.
Charley has come some years to till in the new manure and the previous season’s weeds and garden plants, vastly simplifying the tilling task. When I use the tiller, the garden soil remains rough and clumpy, with plant stems poking everywhere, no matter hour many passes I make. When Charley tills with his tractor tiller, the garden soil transforms to soft powder a foot deep, much to the delight of running and dancing children. My tiller keeps the weeds down thereafter.
Working the soil together brings a mysteriously sweet satisfaction, somehow connecting us in ways that words do not. As wonderful as it is to bite into the sweet corn freshly pulled from the stalk, sinking our fingers and toes into the soft, living soil brings moments of unexplainable joy. Between the happy days of the Spring till and the Autumn harvest, seemingly endless hours of weeding can cause us to forget that joy. But the soil is always there, ready to receive our bare fingers and toes.
In late May, the tilling accomplished, we scratch out the garden rows, dozens of them, with a hoe point or shovel tip. Then we plant the seeds, seeds of many varieties—and then we wait. While planting may be my favorite part of gardening (even more so than the harvest for my hopeful expectations), waiting for germination and sprouting is my least favorite. It can be hard for me to believe, despite what I know factually, that the seeds lying in the ground will actually sprout and grow. Days pass, adding up to weeks, without visible signs of plant life, except new weeds. My doubts tell me that the seeds will never grow. They will just die. All my efforts were for naught. The whole garden will remain barren dirt.
But one day new green plants shoot up from the soil, each with its own stylish blade or leaf. Despite this miracle of life, proven to my eyes, my doubts persist and whisper at me that these sprigs of green, so small and fragile, could never become corn and squash and heads of lettuce and cantaloupes. But the stalks and vines grow irrespective of my doubts; they blossom unaware of my fears. Each seed, with its own shape, size, color, and texture has somehow become a mature plant bearing its unique fruit, each with its own shape, size, color, and texture.
Each year the process tries my faith in the processes of nature. I can’t quite bring myself to believe that nature works, despite the fact that every year nature, in fact, works. Perhaps it is because I don’t understand well enough the natural processes at work—germination, transpiration, photosynthesis—or because I can’t see what is happening in the warm, moist darkness of the soil. I do know that I cannot force the process. I cannot make the seeds germinate faster, the plants grow up quicker. I cannot make a carrot seed produce a tomato, or a squash vine grow an ear of corn. The best I can do is to help each plant be what it is, what the seed has determined it to be. The most I can do is to nurture: with water, fertilizer, cultivation, weeding, staking, pruning, squashing the squash bugs, keeping the hens away from the ripening fruit.
I have found it to be the same with my children. Despite mother’s swelling abdomen, it was hard for me to really believe that it would produce a baby. Then each baby was born: tiny, helpless creatures. When they were infants, I could not imagine them as toddlers. When they were toddlers, I could not imagine them as adolescent youth. When they were teenagers, I could not imagine them as parents of their own infants (or myself as a grandparent). Yet none of my shallow doubting affected the natural processes of growth and maturation. All I could do was to add to Nature my own nurturing: smiling and laughing, playing games, talking, reading books, assigning consequences, taking walks, sharing tidbits of wisdom from my own trial-and-error life, working to overcome my personality weaknesses, and praying. These humble efforts will hopefully make the blossoms brighter, the stalks taller, the vines stronger, and the fruits more robust and sweet. I need not allow the strain of my daily labors to create doubt about the end result. My children will become who they were ordained to be. The laws of nature demand it.