My White Rock hens in winter. Photo by John Ewing.
GIFTS XXIV. January 11, 2015
The highest efficacy is like water.
It is because water benefits everything
yet vies to dwell in places loathed by the crowd
that it comes nearest to proper way-making.
In dwelling, the question is where is the right place.
In thinking and feeling, it is how deeply.
In giving, it is how much like nature’s bounty.
In speaking, it is how credibly.
In governing, it is how effectively.
In serving, it is how capably.
In acting, it is how timely.
It is only because there is no contentiousness in proper way-making
that it incurs no blame.
–Chapter 8, Dao de Jing, translated and with commentary by Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall.
I carry water to the hens and think
how I have tried to be like water.
Sometimes I forget and then gifts
arrived. Four students where I had
only one. I welcome new neighbors,
and they already trust me. I tell
them their huge tree is a champion
black oak, over two hundred years old,
that its roots go under both our homes
and its leaves clean polluted air and
give shade in summer. I came to
this community, to this little piece
of land because I was poor. No one
else wanted this half-finished house,
but its space for garden, orchard,
hens, and woods beyond satisfied
my desire. Sixteen years later all
my neighbors know me. Whatever
enemies are out there, they know not
this richness of a quiet life, with
work using my heart, head, hands,
feet, eyes, ears. The hens are pure
white, undeterred by sub-freezing
temperatures as long as they have
food and water. When the frost
thaws, I pull up chickweed for them.
I cut scavenged wood to burn and
wrap myself in layers of wool and
fur and fleece until the house warms.
I remembered that the future, no
matter its grim prophecies, brings
its gifts. I see how I am living in
the right place, giving like water
gives, seeking truth, serving
others well, timing my acts to go
through defenses, and when people
fight with me, go around, let it go.
It takes two to fight. I will not reject
those who reject me. Bertha used
to tell her sons, “You’ll need me
before I’ll need you.” They all
came to her funeral. Let us all emulate
water. I know that I know how.