the art of being unnecessary

“I climb up through the field

That my long labor has kept clear.

Projects, plans unfulfilled

Waylay and snatch at me like briars,

For there is no rest here

Where ceaseless effort seems to be required,

Yet fails, and spirit tires

With flesh, because failure

And weariness are sure

In all that mortal wishing has inspired.”

-Wendell Berry

“Sabbaths” 1979-IV

I am not one for idle hands. The morning creeps grey between the curtains and I begin with the daily list making, ways to give these hands purpose of all sorts: prepare the breakfast, hang the laundry, wash the dishes, write the letters, give the hugs, clean the babies and the floors. The day moves as I muck through my to-do’s. It feels as though I’m pushing that proverbial boulder on up the hill. Can’t stop, it’ll roll right back down to the bottom, no progress measured. Isn’t that how the old Greek myth goes?

Evening’s dusk wicks upward from the horizon. The day ebbs, but I have no choice but to stay in the flow. So much depends on me, family and finances supported by my busy hands. I must keep moving. Think of all I’d sacrifice if I stop! I have no choice, really.

My worth is wrapped in my work. Endless lists, my own wishes, inspire a sense of pride, duty, accomplishment. Importance.

Who would I be in rest? How would I know I’ve contributed something, anything, enough?  What happens to me when I make myself unnecessary?

I already know the truth. Should my list, my “mortal wishing”, go unfulfilled, life will move forward yet. The children quarrel, they play, they always learn, their faces are clean, their nails are dirty. Our home still stands, dishes done, weeds over taking flowers. Our roof lasts through another rain, our garden dies in another drought.

Oh, but how unnecessary I truly am!

There is a wild, challenging freedom in it.

My list will never be complete, no, not ever. But my work for today is done. I feel it ebb, the day’s need for my contributions dimming with the day’s light. I invite the buzzing stillness of twilight to dwell in me. This is a choice I have been given.

My small world keeps spinning while I sit, allowing wool to pass through my felding hand, allowing the hook and stitches to speak for themselves, allowing something to be formed that may one day cover me in comfort and providence. This requires a present kind of mindfulness; perhaps one day I will learn to live in this mindfulness in both my work and rest. Isn’t that how the old Greek myth really goes?

There exists a sacred balance here, of work, providence, and rest.

We are fearful creatures; that which we seek to soothe our fear often feeds it. When in the endless pursuit of self preservation we strive for more than provision for our daily portion of need, we burden ourselves with far more than our daily portion of work. The sacred balance is lost.

That daily portion of work may leave us tired, even weary, but it is not what exhausts our souls and breaks our spirits. Stop, and we might look about and realize the greatest works move forward without us, perhaps even in spite of us. Rest saves us from wallowing in the truly fearful notion that we must move things forward ourselves. We accept our own limitations; we learn to trust, and fear subsides.

Rest is the quietude of a soul trusting its needs will be provided for in proportion to its work. It is moving in tandem with the ebb and flow of each day, which is providence in itself.

Before I even think to write it on my list, I find my time of rest has indeed provided something tangible. I pull over my head the wooly fruit of my ebbing day, warm Providence, and walk out into the cool of evening, free to be wildly unnecessary.

The Ebb and Flow Pullover crochet pattern is available in the “Trade” Fall 2017 issue of Taproot