I am part of a group that seeks to “green”  our church (UU). At the last meeting only women came, five of us. One of our discussions revolved around single-use paper cups during coffee hour and Sunday school. We have many mugs and we figured out how to put them back to use. The major obstacle is, of course, inconvenience. Will people go into the kitchen and rinse their mugs or put them in the dishwasher? What kind of mess will that make? Can we ask the (volunteer) coffee hour hosts to take this on? Should we help the coffee hour hosts deal with the dishes?

To us it was self-evident that we should do this: we avoid plastic bags and single-use bottles, bring our own containers to restaurants for leftovers and to the deli to avoid the baggies. But we were well-aware that others, even in our liberal church community, would not welcome this. Their lives are busy and difficult enough as it is, why add another inconvenience?

As we talked this through, I realized that, though I take on some of these measures because they are “green” and, even deeper down, principled, I also like the fact that they add effort to my daily life. I actually think it’s a nice bonus!

You see, as an unpaid part-time work-at-home mom, I gradually realized that the daily running of the household was so easy as to be meaningless, worthless. Yes, it is wonderful not have to scrub the laundry and one’s hands in cold water, not to have to go out to the pump to draw water, to have dishwashers and automatic furnaces and a car to go get all the food we want from the supermarket. But what was left, but the flicking of switches from on to off to on again? That demands no respect. The respect goes to the money-earner in the house who bought the machine, the engineer who designed it, the “civilization” that made it all possible.

Then I started carrying take-out boxes around and eschewing plastics and single-use anything, and began to divest our household from supermarkets through gardening, keeping hens and bees, and began building things with my own hands, hanging laundry to dry, and switched from oil heat to a wood stove (we buck, split and stack  our wood and gather and cut kindling ourselves). I did all this for environmental and resilience reasons, out of the principle to take only what I need, and partially also as a way to contribute financially by generating savings.  And I found that the inevitable inconveniences were welcome, because they put effort and thus meaning back into the daily chores, making them  empowering again.

Later on I talked about this with a friend who is a full-time (and then some) career woman. She took exception to my line of thought. She is stretched so thin that adding any of these inconveniences would just make her snap. Of course, we all make different choices. She chose to get her empowerment mainly from her position, her pay check. She pays others to do the household chores for her, so all she has to do when she gets home after a long day of work is mostly flick switches (she has outsourced everything but cooking, which she loves), so she can spend her precious free time with her family. I chose to aim for a balance between household/homestead and activism (not found it yet!). I get some of my empowerment from my activism, but I too want a fully meaningful life, and so I welcome it in my household life.

That is why this morning I got up way too early, having gone to sleep too late after working on solar in my town – what was that about balance? I shrugged into my winter jacket and sneakers and grabbed the wood basket and went outside. The freezing wind and slushing snow woke me up good. The hens were yelling at me to be let out of the coop, and then I replaced their frozen water. Back in the porch I filled my basket with firewood. I took it in and made breakfast and lunch while shouting to DH and DD to get out of bed!  Then I sat down in front of the stove and lit the newspaper, which lit the fat wood, which lit the kindling, which lit the firewood. While others were still waking up, having breakfast, commuting to work, waiting to get somewhere empowering, I had already worked. I was already powerful.

Well, things are picking up. With Sandy and then the election I am galvanized into action again. Plans, ideas are revived. I see new ways of making them possible. We need to start doing more climate change outreach, right now when it is fresh on people’s minds and even the politicians are talking about it. We need to plan that Great Unleashing, that big party that draws the community together around the resilience challenge. We need to see that solar co-op happen, for those here who wanted solar but were shaded out, with perhaps a component that allows those with excess kilowatts to sell them on a “local solar market”…

I caution myself to be careful here. Perfect is the enemy of good and Rome wasn’t built in a day and one step at a time!  I need to stay sane, and calm, and not overwhelm myself and others. I need to fit my ambitions to my capabilities.

I’m always looking for new ways to put this to myself.

A week ago I discovered Stephen Jenkinson, who works with dying people. There is an interview with him here in which he speaks about the death of loved ones as well as of the culture. The message is that the culture is dying and that, instead of running away, we should be present at her death bed just as we should be present at our loved one’s death bed. The whole interview is worth your attention. But there was this one line which spoke to me loud and clear:

“You have to decide that maybe the crazy place you find yourself in could use a little sanity that’s got the approximate shape of you.”
Jenkinson adds that you should risk  arrogance. I don’t see arrogance in this, not anymore. I think only those who are still hiding their lights under a bushel, for whatever reason, see arrogance in it as a way of judging and justifying their own inaction. Those who have accepted that the world needs work and that “if I’m not going to do it, who else will?” see that line, on the contrary, as a caution.  Yes, there is a space there for me to fill. Yes, I shouldn’t leave it empty and I shouldn’t fill it halfheartedly. But also, I also shouldn’t overfill it, stuff it to bursting so there is no space to breathe, so it explodes and takes others down with it.
There is just that one space with that particular shape, my shape. I want to honor and serve and love it. If I do too little, that space and the world around it will let me know. If I do too much it will nudge me, if need be push me, back in line. As long as I let it.
There. Earthed again (*).
(*) Because the word “grounded” has bad childhood connotations.

 

A couple of days ago as I was walking to the elementary school to pick up Amie I was suddenly struck by what a fine day it was. Then I stopped in my tracks – we walk to and from school through “the woods”, that’s the neighbors’  wooded backyards, so they were, literally, tracks – and laughed out loud. Another mom, just behind, caught up with me and asked with a smile what I was laughing about. My plain and simple answer was: the criteria we have for what constitutes “a good day”!

I’m not talking about the day when you bump into Bill Gates in the elevator and sell him your project, or find an agent for your novel, or win the lottery… I’m talking about an ordinary day — that day. And I found that three particular things had “made” that day:

  1. all four hens had each laid an egg after being on strike for two days, possibly freaked out by the hurricane,
  2. my neighbor had brought me a pound of wild oyster mushrooms,
  3. I had just tasted the mead and it far exceeded my expectations.

Why did this make me laugh? First because I thought: is that all it takes, food? Then I realized that all this food was rather exceptional food. That in this suburban neighborhood I was managing to cultivate out-of-the-ordinary food:  all of it home-made, home-grown, and foraged within a mile of my house (the mead is from my own honey, the mushrooms were foraged in my street). It was something I so dreamed of years ago. And now here it was, making my day, making my ordinary day!

Amie and I that day talked about how much of our food is local and what that means. We know the people and animals who grew it. Knowing them we can appreciate their labor, their love, the need for our support. We are naturally moved to gratitude. We decided we need a way of saying thanks. If you know of a poem or short message of thanksgiving (that is non-religious) to be said over our dinner everyday, please share it with us. It will help us celebrate the  extraordinary food that lifts us up out of the ordinary.