Just Keep Growing

by on April 28, 2011
in Farm Life

As many of our farm members know, William and I were away from the farm last week.  We finally sold our house down in the four corners region of Utah and went down to empty out our storage shed at the house.  It coincided nicely with a sisters wedding which we were able to attend and allowed us the opportunity to visit family and friends.  William and I also celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary and after having just attended a beautiful wedding the week before I was struck by just how much I love my farmer.  I would have told you 16 years ago that there was no possible way that I could love my husband any more than I did then…who knew that my heart could grow so much?

I didn’t know 16 years ago that we would have so many ups and downs, so many heartaches and so many blessings.  It’s nice to have a day or two of clarity, to see just how far we’ve come, to see just how much we mean to each other, and to be reminded that all of our blessings have been richer because we’ve been able to hold on to each other and our belief in better days as we’ve waded through the rough times.

Our anniversary was on April 22nd, and on Saturday morning as I was heading to the market to get some spinach for my green smoothie my phone beeped to let me know I had a message.  We were staying with my brother-in-law and his family who live in a beautiful rural town that is unfortunately a black hole for cell phones so I pulled over to the shoulder of their little country road to listen to my messages while I had service.  There were a few messages from family for my anniversary, and one from my mom asking me to call her back right away.  I could tell by the tone of her voice that something was wrong so I tried to call her back right then but her phone was busy.  I listened to my messages again and heard the message I had missed the first time and it nearly stopped my heart.

One of my cousins had committed suicide two days earlier.

Mom had been trying to reach me but hadn’t been able to with our spotty cell service.  I couldn’t believe it.  “Why?”  Was the foremost question in my mind.  Why quit now?  Why when things were going so well for him?  We still don’t know.  He left notes but the police won’t let the family see them yet, they wouldn’t even let his wife view his body without paying $400 first.  They told his wife and parents that it will be at least 3 weeks before they will release anything to them.

I sat in the front seat of my car, crying as William held me, and couldn’t imagine the despair that must have driven him to that extremity.  And I couldn’t bear thinking of the pain my aunt and uncle were going through.  They were unable to physically have children of their own and had adopted a son and daughter and had loved them as much as any parent could love a child.

He’d been one of my heroes when I was a little girl.  I remember visiting them once when I was about 9 years old.  I had hit that unfortunate, gangly and goofy stage of youth where your teeth are too big, your arms too long, and no matter how hard you try you’re tripping over everything in sight with feet that suddenly can’t seem to figure out where they’re going.

I was avoiding injury and potential damage to the house by sitting alone out on the back patio and breathing in the smell of flower blooms and freshly mowed grass.  All of a sudden my handsome, teenage cousin came out with two glasses of lemonade one for me and one for himself.  Randy sat visiting with me, asking me about what I was currently interested in, about my friends, just about me.  It was a sweet moment for a young girl and I loved him for it.  I loved him for caring enough about me to take the time to visit with me and make me feel interesting when I was convinced that I was a hopeless geek.  I never forgot it, and even though life kept us busy and out of touch except for an occasional remark on facebook, I still loved my cousin.

As we drove home from our trip and I crossed mountains, deserts, rivers, and valleys all in the space of hours the trials, joys, sorrows, and regrets of years ran through my mind.  As I easily passed over rivers that had claimed the lives of early Oregon pioneers I measured my ease against their toil, my commitment to principles against their absolute determination to keep going to the end of the trail.  I thought of our garden waiting for us at home on Kirk Rd. and of the high desert garden I had just seen at my father-in-law’s house.  Those beautiful tender blooms hang on year after year in some of the most adverse conditions.   I drove past an apple orchard in full-bloom clinging to a tiny, steep-sloped hillside in the Columbia River Gorge and marveled at its persistence.

When we arrived home William opened up his sprouting chest and found to his amazement that his tomato seedlings, which he had given up for dead, were still alive and groping for the light.  In his absence, with no water, no light, and no hope of surviving without either of those things they still kept growing.  Their stems were a little leggy and they were drooping but a little bit of water and an afternoon in the sunshine refreshed them and they are now growing happily in the greenhouse, stronger than some of their other siblings who had no stress to overcome.

And then it struck me, as I watched William tending to those little seedlings, that humans are the only creatures on the earth who willingly give up the chance to live.  After years of tending crops, raising animals, and watching the cycle of life and death inherent to farming I have never seen a tomato plant die because it just stopped wanting to live.  Even with disease, mildew, pest damage, and broken stems and branches they still keep fighting onward and upward.  We’ve had animals that have suffered from injury and disease that have fought against their own damaged bodies to try to stand, to move, to just keep going for one more day.  We’ve done all in our power to help them and sometimes are rewarded with a miracle of healing and sometimes with the eventual death of a well-loved farm friend.  But no matter the outcome we are able to walk away knowing that we did everything that could have been done to save their life…because every life is precious.

It broke my heart, to think that maybe there was something I could have done or said to help my cousin, but now I have no way of knowing, and no way to fix it.  I can’t tell him now how precious his life was to me and I wish he had known.  How often do we consider our lives unimportant to others?  How often do we believe the lie that our life doesn’t make a difference to anyone else?  Far too often I’m afraid, but unlike the animals we work with and the plants we tend, the people we come in contact with have the power to choose  despair or hope.

Many of our farm members have shared their personal stories with us, their journeys that have led them in search of the healthiest food they can find in order to save their health, the discouragement they have felt from time to time when they felt they had no control over something as seemingly insignificant as what they could eat.  Many of them have been at that decision point that asks “Can I keep going?”

You can.  You can keep going and more importantly you can keep growing.  This is my message from the farm today…please, please, please just keep growing.  Don’t give up when you think you can’t keep going one more step.  There are people you can’t remember, people you may not even know, who need you.  Your life matters.  Not one plant on our farm goes to waste, not one.  All of the systems of our farm are interrelated and intertwined and a loss in one represents a loss in all of the others.  So it is with our community of friends, and in the larger family of man.

Your life is precious and you are the only one who can live it.

So take heart, and take the next step.

Just Keep Growing.