repent

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I returned to the lake this morning, yesterday’s hunch that the annual drainage would soon be upon us heavy in my heart. Sure enough, nearing the water I could at once see mudflats emerging in the shallows and water levels receding along the shoreline. With a heavy heart, I noted the drying masses of eggs in the exposed leaf litter.

I had carried with me a small bucket for scooping some eggs, my small attempt at giving something back. I was reminded of the little girl in me, who once fed milk with an eyedropper to the field mice she’d discovered in a strawberry basket in the shed, or the mother in me who once nursed a fallen baby robin, brought to her by her grown son, with fishing bait worms while attempting to whistle (my whistler is inept) so the young one, still needing to be fed, would come to her once it fledged. As I recall neither of those attempts were a success, in the strictest sense of the word, however by other measures, perhaps they were.

How does one begin to measure one’s gift to the earth? I have been reading and listening of late to a group of authors, some of them of native american descent, who are seeking to reestablish right relationships between humans and nature, reciprocal relationships where we give to the earth in some measure in responsive gratitude for the abundant gifts we receive from Her (rather than take at Her expense, or even merely sustain her ability to keep giving in a still self-centered attempt to maintain in order to be able to take more).  Even when these reciprocal gifts are symbolic in nature (though by no means are they to be merely so) there is nurtured in the human, reverence, respect, gratitude, proper perspective and balance, in that pause to acknowledge the other. Right relationships keep things in compassionate and generous balance.

And so this symbolic gesture, perhaps, was my small way of saying, I see you and I care. I care that we have stripped so much of your habitat for profit’s sake.  I realize that it is likely that very few of the millions of eggs at the water’s edge would have even made it to froghood, but many more would have been food for fish and birds, reptiles and small mammals. I care that this relationship is broken, that the ducks and geese will also be forced to leave, the herons as well, after picking off the small fish that get stranded. I expect there is another way that this lake could be man-aged, one that might value these lives and relationships as important. We humans could still paddle and swim, but we could first make room for fish and birds, frogs and mammals, while also receiving from the great gifts of their presence.

How does one measure one’s gift to the earth? A drop in the ocean. From time to time I receive a small note of appreciation from someone who has found a bit of nurture in something I’ve written. Not often, but enough to remind me of the drop when I am feeling out of proportion.  Tiny nibbles now and then assure me that the shared songs of my soul and uttered longings of my humanity are food enough in this web of life. I awaken this morning to the gift of this prayer on my phone, ‘Today is the day you offer the world the wisdom of your heart’, and I know that I am enough. In that moment, I can repent from my need to be bigger and do more at my own …. and others’…expense.

You see, saving those frog eggs was also a message from my self to myself. This small seed of new life I have felt stirring in my womb this winter, this small drop in the ocean that is my gift to the world,  is worth saving, worth holding on to. Something of my soul has been shining these past weeks, through the structure that this winter has offered. ‘My work in the world’ here is very tender…  tender in the small but vulnerable way in which I share myself here, but also tender in the way of any new life, terribly fragile and in need of a safe, nurturing environment, where it won’t be crushed. In saving those eggs I affirmed that something tender as this is important, important enough to preserve and protect. I have perhaps entered into a right relationship with myself.

In holding back the floodwaters of life, a small breach in a dam can grow seemingly overnight. Overnight, it seems, a delicate balance that was lifegiving yesterday,  is today overwhelming on one side, parched on the other. In a perverse all or nothing, the cascade runs dry.

If the winter has taught me one thing, it is that it is easier for me (for many of us?) to stand behind a firm external boundary (often one that is comprised of our own physical illness) than it is to craft an internal balance of enoughness. And it has been so very good to feel full in this kind of way … full of sparkling water, full of goodness and light, full of generosity and potential. Billions of eggs in this stillness. Overflowing rather than overwhelming.

I expect this is something we all could learn from in a world that bombards us with the need to be more than we are and do more than we can, which naturally results in relationships with one another and with the earth where we take and exploit. We are all caught in a pace of overwhelming vs overflowing, unable to be small enough and still enough to receive and to give.

In the natural world, beavers are the engineers, slowing things down with their crafted dams so that the waters might overflow, creating a lush habitat where many can thrive. It is their gift. Beavers look after their dams each night, checking for breaches, patching and adding reinforcement, always aware of that balance, knowing that their very survival depends upon the underwater habitat they create. Theirs is a vigilance I would do well to emulate. My journaling practice is perhaps one way of attending to and patching the holes in the dam each evening.

The state of my body (of water) … agitated, turbid, receding, leaking… is also a clear internal barometer, warning of coming storms, that I can attend to. Yesterday, it revealed the ineffectiveness of my ability to craft an intact boundary, one which would support my physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Left to my own devices, it falters. Oh my heart IS big enough, and the spirit IS willing, but the flesh is weak, and I am only and blessedly that after all, human flesh that crumbles. Sweet balance again, my heart. Human-to-human relationships need to be reciprocal too, respecting, honoring, valuing the unique needs and gifts of all.

It is so very hard for me to negotiate these fast moving waters below where the dam has been breached. When things come at me so quickly, there seems no time to respond. I know to look for the eddys, pull over and scout out a path for myself through the obstacles ahead, find the next eddy, where I can catch my breath again. It’s just that I really don’t like whitewater paddling…it is not my particular gift, and it is not the way that I thrive. Give me a quiet lake somewhere, please, where I can pause often to reflect the beauty. There is life enough for me there.

But today the lake on that other side is running dry,  its eggs dying inch by inch, save the few inches-worth I gathering into my arms and carried home this morning with a promise to them and myself. Small as you are, you are valuable and worthy of my protection. And you are a gift.

One egg, one drop, at a time.

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