I came to know Wendell Berry at the wrong time in my life. My husband and I, with three children in tow, had just barely ... Read More
If you know me well, or have ever had a conversation with me outdoors, it is more than likely I’ve stooped to pull weeds. I am an incorrigible weed puller. A couple of years ago, while talking with my son in our backyard, I bent over and began picking weeds near our feet. He stopped and asked me point-blank, “Why do you always pick weeds when we talk?”
I was stunned. I was aware of my habit, but oblivious to what it communicated. I asked him if my actions hurt his feelings, to which he replied, yes. Crying, I apologized, and told him to always feel the freedom to tell me when I am distracted, rude, or appear checked out. I’m not nominated for any Dad Of The Year awards.
A natural-born weed puller, I started a lawncare business in 2011, the object being to apply my obsessive-compulsive behavior to financial gain. Four years and five full mowing seasons later, my side business had grown into something more than side work—it became a near full-time job. At the beginning of 2016, after much deliberation and a slew of second thoughts, I decided to shutter the operation, to sell the equipment, and to abandon a known source of income—physically toilsome though it was.
If that decision seems foolish to you, I don’t blame you. The decision makes very little sense, has no ground in reality, perhaps reeks of irresponsibility, smacking even of psychosis. I get it. Like you, I too wonder if I’ve lost my adult mind. But consider the possibility that I needed to lose my adult mind to gain one more childlike, one willing to humbly trust, to cease striving. Striving I can do. I’ve done it for years. But I needed to stop pretending to be my own provider.
At the end of a summer day of cutting grass . . . in Tennessee . . . in July, I had little to nothing left to give to either my music or art, the main work and thrust of the last twenty years of my life. Rather than humble myself, I numbed myself, became bitter, acted out in selfish behavior, and pulled creative engagement out of my life like a weed. I am a terrible businessman, just as afraid of success as of failure. Money, security, and comfort, though not inherently bad, are endless pursuits. There’s never enough of them. Physical security is neither true nor is it actual. Comfort is relative. And as far as taking us anywhere, money takes us only so far.
Here’s the thing: the weeds aren’t going anywhere. As long as earth continues in this, its First Life, weeds will not only continue to exist, but will flourish. By their very definition, weeds are unwelcome success stories. They find a way.
Fertilizing, treating, and overseeding our lawn is now financially prohibitive. I’ve had no choice but to let my yard go. This time last year, it was a lush, deep green pageant. As of this writing, our small neighborhood property is a pock-marked patchwork of bare dirt, hardpan, irregular clumps of fescue, and mixtures of variously hued weeds. As someone who derives great pleasure from tending to his lawn—a person who once got paid to maintain others’ lawns!—it kills me to see it in this condition: neglected, as if I no longer care about its appearance or health. There are worse ways to die.
Here’s something: it’s unlikely I will ever stop pulling weeds. Not only is it irresistible to resist scourge, but I find the neurotic pastime to be relaxing and satisfying. Here’s something else: in the modern annals of turf management, the battle against weeds is unwinnable, Pyrrhic at best. Until the Second Earth, we only pretend to have control. Power is a monster, control a sham.
Now, finally, here is my spiritual analogy: In the same way I’ve had to surrender my lawn, releasing myself from the pretense of having control over my life is a surrender even greater, even more difficult, because it goes against every natural inclination in me. Like weeding flower beds, humility involves extraction. If God is a being whose words are not blatant lies, I am compelled to believe he is my only provider. Sure, daily decisions must be made—Do I buy this 20 oz. bottle of Dr Pepper now, or save this $1.50 for my non-retirement?—but control has not, does not, and will never belong to me. If not an uncomfortable fact, I find unnatural freedom in it.
If what was written ages ago has roots today, having been led out of captivity into spacious places, I am invited to cease striving, to abandon my compulsive, fleshy will, to leave the weeds, and rest in the Creator’s boundless delight.
Eric Peters, affectionately called "Pappy" by those who love him, is the grand old curmudgeon of the Rabbit Room. But his small stature and often quiet presence belie a giant talent. He's a songwriter of the first order, and a catalogue of great records bears witness to it. His last album, Birds of Relocation, blew minds and found its way onto “year’s best” lists all over the country. When he's not painting, trolling bookstores, or dabbling in photography, he's touring the country in support of his latest record, Far Side of the Sea.