In university I took a scuba diving course. It was amazing to be down at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean exploring sea cucumbers and sea stars, colourful fish and urchins. But the idea of breathing under water freaked me right out. I was the kid who the instructor likely had tales to tell about after the lesson. ‘Can you believe that moron? She handed me her regulator 40 feet under water and signaled that she was heading for the surface? Why would someone give up the air they need to survive?’
I can answer that (as I’m the moron) – the only thing I knew was the comfort of breathing air above water. And I wasn’t about to give up what I knew so quickly. As I grew more familiar with the equipment, I was able to hang out at shallower depths without panic attacks in time. I can tell you that the wolf eel that looked like somebody’s dead grandpa who wrapped itself around my neck was far less scary to me than breathing under water. After a few years of exploring the depths of the sea (and soon rivers and lakes in the east), I hung up my scuba gear for a life of the terrestrial kind.
Giving up what you know is a hard thing to do. When it came to love, there was a time I had known nothing but loss and heart break. So every time I entered into a relationship with something or someone I cared deeply for, I braced myself to lose it. That was just the pattern.
When I began farming, I learned in a hurry that life and death come and go constantly, almost every day in some way or another. You can’t hide from it here. Death shows its face in every corner. And getting comfortable with death was my new task at hand. The trick was to do this while still allowing myself to become attached to the things I knew I would likely soon lose.
We’re all gonna die someday. I heard this in a country song somewhere. Buddhists spend their lives accepting the idea of loss (and lack of attachment). It shouldn’t be such a surprise to us that all living things die sometime. Like Tina Fey says in the movie ‘Date Night’: ‘why is it such a shocker to my children that they have to put on their pajamas again? Its not like we don’t do it EVERY NIGHT!’ We will die. Every time. Bar none.
But last night when I looked on the floor of the chicken coop and noticed the great absence of my little feathered-foot hen, my heart fell so fast I couldn’t catch it on the way down. I awoke this morning with nothing more than the thought that I had lost my dear friend. Often I would fill water troughs and feed bins holding her against me, stroking her little head. I swear this bird purred like a cat. She would close her eyes and rest against my chest. We were choring pals. And now she is gone. That nasty fox took her away last night.
I wrote a blog post yesterday about that fox, I did. But never once did I acknowledge even to myself that she was gone. It seemed too much to handle. I cared about her too much to let her go just yet. But the truth hits hard sometimes and to get that close to her was to risk the inevitable of one day letting her go.
That’s the thing about being blessed with abundance. You have far more stuff to lose. I can see now why I stayed away from attaching myself to things for so many years. It is hard work getting so close to things only to lose them in the end.
I took my heavy heart to bed last night and silently listed all of the things I was grateful for. The list was long. It was a list of things that others would give their left arm for. I lost a small chicken (a few actually but I’m not ready to count), but I have so much left in that place. It turns out a heavy heart knows how to show gratitude beautifully.
It seems I live my life forever at the bottom of the sea these days. Each day brings something unexpected and new. I never know where my next breath will come from. But I take it all in just the same, wherever I can get it. Somewhere along the way I flipped a switch, and I have never looked back.
To not appreciate what I have, to not let these things in while they are still here, is a far greater loss than the cost of letting my other favourite things go.
We don’t survive if we do not breathe. As in all things, it is best to accept the way things are. And handing back my breathing apparatus to my instructor was a very dangerous and stupid thing to do. Even though it felt safe and predictable to head for the surface at the time, it was not. Facing loss and death head-on seems the only way to cope with life on the farm, I find. Death does not come disguised in Styrofoam packaging around here. The only way out is through.
That is what allows me to move on. Not easy, but complete. One breath at a time, because there is no use in hoarding air.