There is a poem by Wendell Berry that means a lot to us. We usually circle back to it every spring at some point. In our early years of farming we would just start crying when we read it. In those early years the sheer rush of spring was so overwhelming and exhausting that we would almost break every year.
We (I) tend towards summoning strength when things get tough. We try to work harder or longer or think harder and plan better. Farming is a LOT of work and it is VERY complicated.
I think everyone can understand the clenching "hold on" mentality when things get hard.
But sometimes the end of the tunnel is further then your strength can carry. What then? Sometimes the disaster is just bigger then you. What then? Part of the human experience is being very very very small in a giant unyielding world. If you don't get overwhelmed by overwhelming things then something is wrong--you are probably lying to yourself.
This poem helps us remember that there is another way. Perhaps the fear (of fear) that keeps you clenched is what's actually wearing you down. And perhaps death isn't really death. Everything on the farm actually suggests that death is really life...
Here's the poem:
I began to be followed by a voice saying:
"It can't last. It can't last.
Harden yourself. Harden yourself.
Be ready. Be ready."
"Go look under the leaves,"
it said, "for what is living there
is dead in your tongue."
And it said, "Put your hands
into the earth. Live close
to the ground. Learn the darkness.
Gather round you all
the things that you love, name
their names, prepare
to lose them, It will be
as if all you know were turned
around within your body."
And I went and put my hands
into the ground, and they took root
and grew into a season's harvest.
I looked behind the veil
of the leaves, and heard voices
that I knew had been dead
in my tongue years before my birth.
I learned the dark.
And still the voice stayed with me.
Waking in the early mornings,
I could hear it, like a bird
bemused among the leaves,
a mockingbird idly singing
in the autumn of catastrophe:
"Be ready. Be ready.
Harden yourself. Harden yourself."
And I heard the sound
of a great engine pounding
in the air, and a voice asking:
"Change or slavery?
Hardship or slavery?"
and the voices answering:
And I was afraid, loving
what I know would be lost.
Then the voice following me said:
"you have not yet come close enough.
Come nearer the ground. Learn
from the woodcock in the woods
whose feathering is a ritual
of the fallen leaves,
and from the nesting quail
whose speckling makes her hard to see
in the long grass.
Study the coat of the mole.
For the farmer shall wear
the greenery and the furrows
of his fields, and bear
the long standing of the woods."
And I asked: "you mean a death, then?"
"yes," the voice said. "Die
into what the earth requires of you."
Then let go all holds, and sank
like a hopeless swimmer into the earth,
and at last came fully into the ease
and the joy of that place,
all my lost ones returning.
I honestly can't read that poem without a chill.
And in case you are interested, there is a musician named Hiss Golden Messenger who wrote a song called "Drum" that uses some of the lines from that poem. It is a favorite (we love all his music).
We are still learning what it means to "[sink] like a hopeless swimmer into the earth / and at last [come] fully into the ease and the joy of [this] place". Its something like humility. It takes a lifetime to learn.