It's been a dreadful week at work--and it's only Thursday, and I took Monday off. It's been a week where more lay-offs were announced, which makes us all feel queasy. It's been a week of ugly talk and unpleasant meetings. What to do?
Last night, I headed over to my church. No matter what was happening elsewhere, an 18 wheeler full of pumpkins was arriving, and we had to get them off the truck.
You may say, "Why?" My church transforms the lawn into a pumpkin patch each year, and we spend several weeks selling the pumpkins. For more on this experience and the ways it turns into a means of spiritual formation, see this post on my theology blog.
As I drove to the church last night, I was sick with anxiety. I worried that I had said too much to the wrong people. I thought about the swirl of rumors that surrounds the school every time we experience lay-offs. I wondered if there are repercussions yet to come.
When I got to the church, those anxieties faded as I thought about the enormity of the task. I began by helping arrange small pumpkins.
But soon it became apparent that I could do more. We realized we'd be losing daylight, and so more of us scrambled into the trailer to help. Three hours later, we were still there, carrying the last pumpkins to the front of the trailer. A group was on the ground, carrying pumpkins into the patch we were creating out of the front lawn of the church.
It felt good to use my muscles in a practical way. I try to do some strength training each week, but it's rare that I actually need to haul a heavy load with just my arms, legs, and strong back. Again and again, I thought, this is what it's all about.
As the hours went by, soreness set in. I handed pumpkins to people on the ground and said, "I no longer have a sense of what these weigh." For much of the night, we'd been saying, "Here's a medium one. This one is heavy." As the evening deepened into night, we just wanted to get them off the truck.
Let me note that these are not the nice, clean pumpkins you find in your grocery store. These pumpkins came to us still dirty from the field in New Mexico where they'd been grown. Occasionally, we'd find a rotten one, which meant that the pumpkins around them were slimy. By the end of the night, we were all slimy and dirty too.
I wish I had taken the paper cup out of my pocket, before the above shot. Oh well.
It was a fun experience. It was good to get out of my head and live in my body. It was even better to come home and take a hot shower and then soak my sore feet in the cold swimming pool under the light of the almost full moon.
Most of all, it was good to get perspective. Much of the drama at work is a tempest in a tea pot. And some of it, like continued lay-offs, I can't fix, no matter how much I want to. It does no good to dwell in the drama. Pumpkins need to be off-loaded and lawns transformed into a pumpkin patch.
Much of life is like that. It's too easy to get sunk in the drama. It's too easy to get overwhelmed by the task. But to paraphrase Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, the work can be done, pumpkin by pumpkin, until the truck is empty.
This metaphor holds true, whether it's working on a book of poems, heading towards a degree, learning a new skill, creating a family, dealing with workplace issues, working towards a more just world. Pumpkin by pumpkin, we move to where we want to be.
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