Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Learning to Care

Teach us to care and not to care,
Teach us to sit still.

~T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday

The finest growth that farmland can produce is a careful farmer.

~Wendell Berry, Prayers and Sayings of the Mad Farmer

Although it has been quite some time since I published a “real” blog post, I have had something on my mind recently that has given me some inspiration. Many of you who know me well are aware of my tendency to be absentminded and clumsy. In fact, it has been well documented with hard evidence in almost every circle of close friends that I have. Many a good wine glass or dinner table chair has suffered from my propensity to recklessness. Perhaps the worst of these incidents was a couple of months ago when I broke a stool that one of my closest friends had been given when he was born. As always, he was very gracious about it, but all of my drive back to Elberton I could not stop thinking about how my careless behavior had damaged a treasured gift.

Though I wish it were not the case, this lack of care has more than a few times spilled over to my work here on the farm. I have left behind a trail of broken truck windows, frozen milk, and drills that won’t drill. At one point, I even made the very embarrassing mistake of dipping our cow’s teats with undiluted acid instead of the hydrogen peroxide solution that we use to clean them with. As is the case in the last incident, the careless mistakes that I make can have a very real impact on the health and quality of life of our animals.

I have analyzed this tendency in myself quite a bit, because that is just what I do. The irony the situation is that my analytical and wandering mind can sometimes be the problem. Caught up in my own thoughts or the pressing issues of the farm that day, I can lose sight of the fact that I need to pay attention to what I am doing right then. This is what it means to care, to give myself fully to the task at hand and to do it well. In order to do this I have to step outside of myself and recognize that what I do on the farm does not just affect me, it affects the animals, the people I work with, and the land itself. That’s why I think T.S. Eliot’s plea to learn “not to care” is appropriately paired with his desire to learn to care. To learn to care for the world around me, I must learn not to care too much about me. While much of my education here on the farm has been practical, this may be one of the hardest and most enduring lessons that I will learn.

Coming up next on my blog...

A more practical “how to” on curing and smoking bacon.