Fitting things together that have come apart

The quotes within this article come from the documentary "Look & See," which revolves around the stories of several residents of Henry County, Kentucky, where the writer and activist Wendall Berry bought a small farm in the 1960's. Working the land forms the basis of much of his writing. 

The documentary uses this area of Kentucky as a showcase for how agriculture has changed since its industrialization. Berry, an activist attempting to preserve the natural and humane ways of farming, asks us to consider the importance of protecting the land from erosion, protecting farming families from debt and dissolution, and protecting the beauty of crafts and honest work from the greed of profit and capitalism.

I heard in his prose a narrative that explains what I believe has brought humans so low today. The loss of one's connectedness to nature, to honest values of making things with your hands, of using your brain to solve problems and your body to work the land -- this great loss is our nation's great loss. 

We all come from divorce. Things that have come together are taken apart. You can’t put it all back together again. What you do is the only thing you can do. You take two things that belong together and you put them back together. Two things, not all things. That’s the way the work has to go. So that the made thing becomes a kind of earnest — of your faith in and your affection for the great coherence that we miss and would like to have again. That’s what we do, people who make things. Whether it’s a stool or a film or a poem or an essay or a novel or a musical composition. It’s all about finding how it fits together and fitting it together.
— Wendell Berry

When Trump and his supporters talk about making America great again, I don't believe they're talking about this particular loss, but I do believe that it is what a large majority of Americans are thinking about. What would make this country great again is when we can bring back together two things that belong together. What belongs together is man's great mind with his true nature (his spirit, his purpose). What belongs together is the land and the worker who lives off the land. 

As described by one of the farmers who chose the route of mechanized and large-scale industrial farming, you can't relax when you're worrying about your enormous debt and the insecurity of being able to meet the quotas needed to cover the cost of the land, equipment, seed and fertilizers. These farmers are living on the edge of bankruptcy. How can anyone live a happy life when each action you take could make or break your livelihood?

Wendall Berry on remembering to appreciate the small things (he was asked what he does with the desperation that comes from looking at how the world is moving towards a profit-driven society, rather than a human society):

You feel desperation when you believe that an economically driven world is all there is. The world is, in fact, full of free things that are delightful. Flowers. The world is also full of people who’d rather pay for something to kill the dandelions than appreciate the dandelions. I’m a dandelion man myself.

So, how can you get back to a simpler and more connected life? On the opposite side of the spectrum from the large-scale industrialized farmer is the organic farmer. One organic farmer in the film describes how he felt his soul whither when he considered large-scale farming. By luck, he was given a book on organic farming that in fact offered a more humane way of raising livestock, of working the land, and doing so in a sustainable way. Not only did he get excited about farming again, he was making more money per acre than the industrialized farmer who was growing what are considered cash crops, such as tobacco, corn and soybeans. 

There is a domino affect to this great idea of reconnecting man with nature. Not only do farmers thrive -- when they can work land that isn't constantly eroding, having minimal rather than massive debt, growing healthy foods that you can put on the table rather than products that will be shipped to processing plants, and living within communities where people support and help one another rather than working in isolation -- but all Americans thrive. They  have healthier foods to eat, their lands and water sources around them aren't contaminated with carcinogenic fertilizers and herbicides, and they live within thriving communities, counties and states full of proud families who contribute to their fellow man, who create solid foundations of faith and community and social equality. Plus, the products from these organic farmers are made locally rather than in foreign lands that require fuel and a waste of resources to get them from there to here. Everyone profits, rather than the handful few at the top of the industrialization foodchain.

There is — and you can find it if you sidle up to people who are working on a scale that is human and humane enough — people who love doing their work, who do it out of a great liking or great love for it. That’s been my privilege. As a caretaker [of the land] and a writer. I love the work. Not necessarily every day. But it’s something I look forward to. When you have that, that’s beautiful to see.
— Wendell Berry

You don't have to be a farmer to find your way back to yourself, to what made you excited about doing the work you do in the first place.

When I started out down my career path as a teenager, I knew that my future was in writing. However, the more I listened to the advice of those around me, the more I drifted away from my initial intent of pursuing this career. I wanted to write books and articles, but the influencers in my life said this was not a practical path to take. Find a solid job and do your writing on the side, they said. Writing doesn't pay, they said, unless you're really lucky, or really, really good.

So I used my writing skills for another purpose, and found myself embedded within companies who needed someone who could formulate their business ideas and services. I was talented enough to be able to take those ideas and write about them in ways that the general public could understand. The path I took moved me further and further away from the topics I was interested in writing about. My last job, the one I held the longest, ten years, was writing for the IT department within an institute of technology. 

Was I, like Wendall Berry said, doing this out of a great love or even liking of the work? No. It was a paycheck. It was safety. It was easy, and my heart was not in it. In fact, I hated it. I felt dead inside. I dragged myself to work each day, wishing to be somewhere else.

Unaware that I was doing it, I sought to bring two lost things together; the two things that had become divorced, separated. On one side was my love of writing and sharing my thoughts with others. On the other side was being true to myself, to my own values, interests, strengths and personality traits. Somewhere along the way they had been separated and that's when things began to fall apart. As W.B. Yates says in his poem The Second Coming, "the centre cannot hold."

When I brought those back together, it was like a joyous reunion. All kinds of ideas sprouted. I decided I would run my own business. I would help people like me who had lost their way. I would be a person others could turn to in times of crisis, in times of change, when all felt lost or difficult. Most of all, I would support them along the journey towards wholeness. I would write my own story for sure and maybe what I shared would resonate.

My marriage had fallen apart long before and I found myself alone but on the threshold of a new possibility. A few years later I lost my job at the institute but was by then happily remarried and with all the support I needed to make my dream happen. I had just finished my training as a life coach. 

My choice to look within and see my gifts, the beautiful things that made me who I was, healed me. I recognize that this process of becoming whole is exactly that. It's not a rebirth, it's not turning a corner, it's not a leaping off into an abyss. When people talk about making a transformation later in life, it can take the form of all kinds of metaphors. I see it as a beautiful opening, like a flower. It's not becoming something different, it's becoming more yourself.

It is also a healing, a fusing of something that had broken apart, had cracked into two or more pieces. But rather than seeing this as a flawed or imperfect attempt to put something broken back together, it becomes an even more beautiful thing. The cracks make the whole even more interesting, they make what was once small pieces that had no cohesion or coherence, as Berry says, into something we have always longed for. 

Kintsugi.png

The Japanese have an art form called Kintsugi, which means "golden joinery."  It is an old art form that repairs broken pottery with gold, silver or platinum. The result is something even more beautiful than the original piece of pottery. 

It’s all about finding how it fit together and fitting it together.

Consider coming home to yourself as the method for bringing together the pieces of you that have come apart. Come back to your true nature, which is everything you need and everything the world needs. Once you have done that, and you have found your home, your solid foundation, allow yourself to break wide open again and let all your gifts out. Let the world see them. They are beautiful.