“Of course there must be lots of Magic in the world,” he said wisely one day, “but people don’t know what it is like or how to make it. Perhaps the beginning is just to say nice things are going to happen until you make them happen. I am going to try and experiment.”
-Francis Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
Three days ago I ran out of water.
I live in the country and my well pump stopped working. I’ve done some work with well issues before so I went ahead and replaced the well pump controller box which, was fried. I hoped that was the main problem.
Cold water ran out of my faucets and I watered my livestock and took a shower. My girlfriend came home from work later on that night and I proudly told her the tale of my heroic handyman adventures of the day. A couple hours later, it all came crashing down again.
The water stopped running. I couldn’t figure it out, frown though I may.
The next morning I went to my local hardware store and got a replacement well pump switch box, which is a device that tells the well pump to turn on and off according to demand. Those things fail a lot so I felt somewhat confident that this little grey box would do the trick.
I also felt apprehensive: What if it didn’t?
It didn’t. My repertoire of well pump knowledge was tapped and nothing seemed amiss in the electric circuitry of my house. Finally, I got a hold of a well pump guy. He wasn’t able to come that day, but next morning he would be there bright and shiny. Meanwhile, I went to a friends house to pump 150 gallons of water into a 250 tank I had in the back of my truck to water my animals. My girlfriend and I made do with a few gallons jugs of water.
Water became the biggest limiting factor in our lives for a couple days.
We don’t see how blessed we are with pure flowing water until it is gone from our lives, and then, with a backlog of dishes and a body that desperately needs a shower, we realize how much we have been taking for granted.
The well guy came. We chatted, he pulled the well pump up with his crane and discovered that it was fried. Luckily, he was a super pro, and had everything he needed in his truck. He spent a few hours on my farm and replaced the well pump and some old rusty pipe, handed me a bill for a couple grand and took off down the road.
That was a big bill. I’ve already had a number of surprise bills this year, thousands of dollars worth of repairs, and, as any farmer or business owner knows, these bills don’t really suddenly stop. No, it’s the curse of the independent operator that while we control our work days, we also foot the bill for everything.
That is just life. It is very hard on the pocketbook, sure, but I would make it work. That is the motto of every small business owner, farmer, rancher, and family in the US.
We make do. We work hard. We struggle sometimes, and relax sometimes.
I remember a time in my past when these water issues would have had me really worked up. Tense, afraid, and ultimately emotionally spent as the expense came tumbling down from the heavens.
I would let that stress build up inside of me more and more until it was difficult for me to see my life objectively. In those time, life became more of living nightmare than the beautiful fleeting thing that it is.
I realize now that was all in my head. Yes, difficult things were happening for real, but I hadn’t really grasped onto the fact that we all just make do, regardless of what happens.
Cancer, well pumps, death, cavities, angry words, electric bills, sadness, stubbed toes.
We make do. Joy fills in the cracks.
We all fail. Things fall apart.
This morning I woke up and my subconscious was yelling at me.
“Why don’t you ever talk about your specific problems? Your life is not all honey and roses, and you have plenty of difficulties and struggles. People need to hear that shit. Otherwise you sound like Moses high up on a mountain top with your self-written stone tablets of wisdom — I.e an asshole!”
It’s true. I need to share my life struggles. We all do.
With the advent of social media all we see is the cultivated images and precious picked life moments that represent maybe 1% of an average persons day to day life. We don’t think that the mundane is worth sharing, but perhaps it is the only thing worth sharing. Perhaps it is all the boring everyday tasks and struggles that we all tackle that really matter, and that is why, in part social media is creating divides where there need be none.
But forget social media. What about our daily interactions with real living breathing humans?
I think everybody is a bit guilty of glossing over their problems with their friends and family in order to paint a decently rosy picture of their lives. I don’t know where we learn this, but maybe it is silly. Maybe just being honest would create more connections, with everyone that we meet in our day to day lives.
With my well pump crisis solved, I could get on with my normal routine. I knew that would most likely happen, one way or another. But now I’m starting to understand that those crisis are not an aberration but more so the norm — they happen every now and then.
A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
-Ancient Chinese Parable
As important as it is, accepting what comes our way isn’t the entirety of the lesson here. That in itself is how life works. But there is something else to meditate on when life kicks us in the crotch.
Somehow, for some reason, I found love and love found me.
Like the well pump dying, love was an accident that happened. I could not say no to it, and all I could do was what had to be done. Love shows you that is the reality of life — you can’t premeditate catastrophe nor can you plan love.
The whole fucking thing is out of our hands.
Some ascribe this to higher powers — I don’t care. Go ahead, as long as your love includes all that ever was and all that ever will be.
If there was a God, it wouldn’t be afraid of any expression of love, that is a certainty.
If there was a God, love would be it’s one creation that would spark the rest of existence.
But before I lose myself in torrid waxy poetics, let me get to my point. Love is what is important, either in those happy relaxed times or those stressed out expensive times.
Love is the threads of the fabric that knit together the universe, so when we feel a thread cut, we feel the world unravel.
But on a practical, day to day level, love is what we really have to treasure, what our first resource is, what we need more then anything.
More then running water, more then birthday cakes, more then new shoes, and certainly more than stability.
Life is not inherently stable in any form — we always have our ups and downs, always. But without love, there is no fabric of life to weave.
So, as I paid my bill for the water pump replacement operation, I shook my head as the worry overtook my heart.
How will I pay for this, I thought, this is just too many unforeseen bills in one year.
Worry cast it’s pallor over my furrowed brow. I took a breathe.
But none of it mattered. I would make do. More importantly than all of these problems was the outrageous reality that I had found love.
It’s like that book, The Secret Garden. Once Mary, the proud little obnoxious girl, finds the secret garden, everything changes and she begins to evolve as a human. She learns that life is not all about being right or wrong, being good and bad, but more so about cultivating the interconnectedness of life with the help of friendship and love, all off which is intertwined.
Like a garden.
Within each one of us is a garden that has been neglected for far too long. All the beauty that once was is still there, “wick”, as Dickon the nature boy calls the life force.
Nothing stays wick if we don’t help it out a little, scratching out the weeds and separating the clumps of green things.
Just so with love — if neglected it can grow out of control and smother itself or it can simply wither up and die. In any case, we always have work to do if we want the garden to flourish, whether it is the one inside of us, or the one that we create with another.
Don’t let the ups and downs of your life keep you from your secret garden.