Monday, November 12, 2007

Why I left my children (and my husband (and my job)) for a month

Leave home? For a month? In September?

If you are someone who puts down roots in a place, and particularly if those roots involve a garden in northern New England, you'll know that the words "leave home" and the word "September" don't fit well into the same sentence.

September is the culmination of seven months of planning and working that starts with seed ordering and the sowing of flats in March and April.

Not to mention that September is the month of the HARVEST - when tomatoes need to be canned, dry beans picked, soybeans frozen, pickles made.

The gardening mother of school-aged children who leaves town in September automatically consigns her spouse to mid-night sessions with the pressure canner. If those same school aged children happen to attend "school" at home then the same mother is also consigning her husband to steering through everything from the multiplication tables to spelling words and violin recitals under the burden of sleep deprivation.

If such a mother were also to have major work obligations in October (say a workshop or two and a large grant proposal) then should she leave town for all of September and the beginning of October, she would also be consigning her colleagues to extra work, or at the very least, more than the usual amount of last minute rushing around. (And, if her husband also happened to be one of her work colleagues, well then, what she is asking really would be extraordinary.)

So why did I do it? What I was I hoping to find in thirty-days on the other side of the continent that I didn't already have? What did I think I would find in Joanna Macy's teaching – from meditation to systems theory to the way that our despair for the world opens us up to our love of it – that would be worth asking so much of so many.

Well first there was clarity. Day in and day out I write and teach about the preciousness of the next ten years, the years when the odds are still good that dedicated action can keep the climate from dangerous runaway warming. But it is one thing to be clear about a window of opportunity and quite another to know what to do with it. I went to Oregon hoping to come home someone who was ready to live in a way she'd be proud to have future generations know about it. Someone who was awake to the plight of the world and doing something about it.

And then there was courage. Courage to break away from old patterns that weren't serving me or the world. Courage to say to my kids, 'we aren't going spend money on that even though everyone else you know has one, because plastic junk is part of the problem that is ruining your beautiful world". Courage to ask, in my community that is struggling just to keep up with barn repairs and committee reports, what more can we do? How can we be ready for the rough ride that seems so likely to be coming? Courage to turn away from all those seductive distractions - from trivial conflicts, from emailing while Rome burns.

Clarity and courage are what I went looking for. I can't say that I found them in large measure - though I found little glimpses of the nooks and corners of myself where they might be hiding.

What I found instead is the certaintity that what I need to do - and maybe you too – is exactly whatever it is that someone who did have clarity and courage would do, even (especially) while feeling unsure and afraid. No more than this, and no less.

So I guess it's good-bye retreat - welcome home real world.

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