Love, dirt, being of use, and why I wish “intuitive working” were possible

raised bed garden with green leafy vegetables

My friend Bethany recently wrote a beautiful meditation on transitions, rituals, and love. She argues that, contrary to our mainstream cultural narratives, graduation is not the only time when we can embark on new journeys and adventures, nor is marriage the only valid expression of love.

To illustrate of the many ways that people can express their love for each other and the world, she describes her current job on a farm:

Farming is teaching me more about patience and cycles and transitions than anything I may have ever done before. I see, almost daily, how the labor of my body—led by the love in my heart for the world and my place therein—interacts with the plants in the ground. On Friday, I pounded tomato stakes, hoed potatoes, weeded chard, broccoli and kale, helped uncover beds and beds of cabbage, ate the fruits of last year’s harvest for lunch with the farm team, hoed squash and cucumbers and basil, hand weeded dill, listened to the plans made for the coming weeks, and cleaned the tools at the end of the day.

When I read this, I could barely keep from crying.

This is the work I want, achingly, to be doing.

I know my body feels best when I’m moving around. I know my mind feels best when I’m engaged in meaningful work, work with tangible results. I want, as Marge Piercy puts it (in the title of a poem that I saw on the subway on my way to my office job), to be of use:

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

close-up of strawberry plant

I do my best to practice intuitive eating, and to move in ways that feel right, like yoga and hiking. I try (although not always successfully) to get as much sleep as my body asks for. But when my body tells me it doesn’t want to sit indoors at a desk all day, I have little choice but to ignore it. When my hands tell me they want nothing more than to be wrist-deep in dirt, I have little choice but to ignore them. When my soul tells me it needs to be surrounded by greenness, all I can do is turn away, and try to placate it with weekend hikes and nature walks.

It takes a toll to spend years ignoring what your body and soul need.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying that I have no choices at all. I don’t have children or anyone else depending on me. I don’t have crushing student debt. I’m in good health. I could, in theory, pick up and move somewhere where I could volunteer or work on a farm. But there are things keeping me here:

1.) I love where I live. I have a community for which I am grateful every day. Last weekend, I went to a picnic with a few friends–and ran into another group of friends in the same park, so we combined picnics. That’s not even unusual.

2.) I have a wonderful partner with whom I am building a life. Staying here is the best option for his career. And although he’s somewhat less attached to Boston than I am, he also thrives in our community, and is building communities of his own through music and theater.

3.) Where I live, it’s near-impossible to get a job on a farm without a car. It’s ironic that here in Boston, the city which built the nation’s first subway, there are so many fields of work–literally and figuratively–that still require cars.

A few farms are accessible by commuter rail, but the trains are slow and too infrequent to be useful for regular commuting. I have another friend who has worked summers on a farm; she once mentioned that her commute took about 20 minutes by driving, but would have taken over an hour by train.

4.) Even if I had access to a car, even if I didn’t care about the irony of depending on something so unsustainable in order to work more intimately with the earth, I still wouldn’t feel comfortable depending on a car for a variety of personal reasons. The only kind of car I can imagine depending on is a self-driving car, but I don’t know if or when they will become available.

5.) There’s also WWOOFing (volunteering on an organic farm in exchange for room and board), which I still want to do someday, but I haven’t yet found a way to make it work.

urban garden with veggies in a large metal bin

Bethany concludes her post:

There is always time start again with how you want to be in the world. And to open your eyes and heart to the love and potential that stem from and surround us all. The world will not pass by those who act on the love to be part of it all, at any age, in any month, of any year.

All I want is to start again, with my hands in the dirt and the sun on my back.

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