I have a picture in my head of my parents, with my brother and me in an ocean. It is dark. Waves wash repeatedly over us. Our heads are in and out of the water gasping. We try to fight our way towards land. At last we feel a tremendous shove. My brother and I reach out, our fingers touch the rocks of an island and we are saved. We look back and our parents are washed away, their last best efforts spent pushing us to a shore they do not reach.
In my mind I see my own parents, yet I am coming to think the picture is simply a story of parents. Whatever our failures, we dream of our children safe on the land. Whatever our successes, we want them further than we got. A yearning for life programmed into our DNA.
It is July. Life on our little farm is at triple forte. Chickens lay eggs with abandon, contented and pleased with this year’s offering of bugs. Until recently, it was a good year for the raccoons. (Four caught now in defense of the chickens.) Buster the March calf is nonchalantly bursting at his seams. Thank goodness we don’t have to cloth him. Grass, trees, kids are sprouting every which way.
Life tenuous and tenacious sings. Beckons. The magnitude of things to be done, the tedium of little things, threaten to capsize us. Tired and overwhelmed, we are pulled back again by the longing to be part of the chorus.
In the space of a few days we trap raccoons that are too many and cut back a wagon load of hedges attempting to redefine our lawn. We spend hours in emergency rooms for a son that needs help to live and we buy medicine for an ailing lamb. Life strives incessantly to triumph against cessation. Dogged in its persistence, it is also surprising fragile.
On one side, life must be held at bay, contained for others and its own sake. On the other side, life must be coaxed, aided along for a bit by outside forces. With strength and frailty we stumble along leaning first to one side and then the other. We learn to admire the capacity of life. Respect the bandit faces in the darkness of the chicken coop. And we learn to walk tenderly, with an eye to the lamb who isn’t walking right, the little webs beginning in the corner of the branches of an apple tree, the stomach ache that isn’t getting better.
A mystery and a grand confusion. Only sometimes do we even know on which side of the line our efforts would yield the best results. Leave it to Mother Nature or stage an intervention? We try to know. But the picture is too big.
The impossibility of knowing betrays our smallness. Against the immensity, it begs the question. Is our smallness meant to drive us to madness (if so, it’s working) or does it offer a peculiar kind of mercy?