This one piece was written by a great and creative classmate of mine. She has decided to stay anonymous but has kindly let me post her work on my blog. The purpose of this work was to explain where we come from and what are our roots. Annon, as I will refer to her, brought in seeds and proceeded to tell us of her past.
“Many people are good at talking about what they are doing, but in fact do little. Others do a lot but don’t talk about it; they are the ones who make a community live.”
— Jean Vanier
I’ve been involved in community farms and mental health care for many years, so I think a great deal about community, shared work, and how culture can either help support individual emotional growth or stifle it. As someone who is interested in exploring the edges and depths of human consciousness, I often brush shoulders with others interested in spiritual and mystical experience. There is often lots of talk about oneness, mystery, sustainability, humility, generosity, hard work… all values I would like to see in the world and in myself. Spirituality in my experience is seeking a very practical approach to big questions – how do I live my life? What is my purpose? How do I be a good person? It has little to do with ghosts, magical thinking, esoteric theories of the cosmos, or the exotic textiles we buy from expensive boutiques. It’s about how we spend our days, no matter how that day unfolds.
My father is the fourth of five children raised on a dairy farm in a plain, nowheresville town in New England. He has been a very average physics and math teacher his whole life, at a community college where the students are nothing special. He cannot spell, is probably dyslexic, and performed pretty poorly in high school, as he tells it. As far as I can tell, he has never done an artistic thing in his life. He has made a lot of stupid mistakes in his life, especially when it comes to anything that requires emotional subtlety. He can be terribly sexist. He is very shy and socially awkward, and can count all his friends on one hand. My father will never be named in the history books for anything. In fact, most of the world will never know his name. But he will get to die knowing that his legacy – what he taught his neighbors and children by the way he lived his life – was exceptional.
As imperfect as he is, my dad is a Great Man.
My dad wouldn’t know a “spiritual” thing if it clonked him on the head. He makes no pretenses about being complicated or wise or even very smart. He doesn’t pray to anything, keeps no crystals, beads, or altars. He recites no mantras. He does no reiki, yoga, or self-improvement diet. I think everything he does is spiritual, he just doesn’t make a show of it, or aspire to show you his “spiritual lifestyle”. He does not pray to invisible spirits to know the future and would be uninterested if you told him you were a “healer”. He does sit in the woods quietly with trees and watch birds.
My father keeps bees and shares the honey with friends and family. The label reads simply, “Honey from local bees with help from Grandpa Tom”, as if that’s all he did, just help. My father buys land and plants trees on it because as far as he is concerned, that is a great investment in the future. He has gardened most of his food every year for the last 35 years. He invites the neighbor children over to pick beans in the garden with him because they are good company and he hopes someday they will prefer the outdoors to video games. He knows how to work hard, and can sleep on a wood floor with only a pillow if he needs to. Anything too fancy makes him feel awkward. He buys very little for himself, and his extravagances are limited to experiences he shares with others.
My father taught that it is possible to stick with your family through every year of insanity and every month of poverty, because he stuck with us. He taught us that it is OK to make mistakes, even big ones, because he makes big mistakes. It’s OK to be a slow learner, and there are some things in life you will just never be good at. His favorite students are the ones struggling to earn a C. My father used to say when I was little, “You need to be more patient. Why don’t you go sit in that chair over there and wait for patience to come to you?” And by god, he has waited for 40 years for me to learn that lesson.
My father taught by the way he lived that you should take care of your neighbors, especially when they are sick or alone. He simply knocks on the door and does what needs to be done. He doesn’t need committees, churches, or organizations to channel his willingness to help, or thank him publicly for what he has done. Even though he is sometimes a little misguided about it, he tries to be kind to everyone, especially the forgotten and messed up people and the elderly. He is gentle. He has no concern for power or fame or fancy clothes. At 71, having never done a creative thing in his life, he took up pottery, and sends me mugs and bowls all the time. He is a lifelong learner.
To the end of his life, as it approaches, he has gotten more generous and concerned with the welfare of others, especially his kids and grandkids. He is a runner, and run he will, joyfully to the very end, as long as he can put one foot in front of another, even if he is very slow these days. He does not complain when he is sick, or ask the universe why he is being punished. He knows how to rest when he is tired. He calls me every couple of months to make sure I have enough money, even thought I am 41. He forgives himself and others. He is, in short, exactly what a community elder should aspire to be. I should be so lucky to walk through my days with half the patience, strength, and dignity that he has. The world would be lucky to have more men – real men – like my dad.
Signing off, TWS with the help of Marvelous and Creative Annon