I wrote this essay months ago, never intending to share it. I decided to share it after all.
It’s 0342hrs. I gave up on sleep a good while ago now. I’m sitting on our porch with a burning beeswax candle and a steaming cup of coffee. A sweet smelling breeze is teasing the poplar leaves into dancing and the peepers into singing. I am too tired and too heavy to participate, but I am relieved that I can still, at the very least, notice.
I came home from the city yesterday. It was too much. Too much running around. Too many people. Too long surrounded by a world that doesn’t know me or want me. I felt exhausted at the end of the day, desperate to climb into, better yet - slide under, my bed and hide.
So I rolled into our driveway happy to shed the city. I walked over to the barn to hang out with whatever critters would have me and immediately noticed that Troy had cut a hole in one of the barn boards to mount an ugly electric fence energizer on it. It took my breath away to see that. To see a hole cut into an ancient barn board, a board that runs the length of the wall with all of the other boards that were placed there. A board that was nailed in by hands that no longer exist. A part of the skin of that ancient building hacked away. I just looked at what was done and cried. It broke my heart.
I’m sitting here in the dark now, trying to pluck out and sort through what that tangle of emotions is all about. I owe Troy an explanation. He couldn’t know. His decision solely utilitarian in the midst of a job. ‘Need a hole, cut a hole.’ But that’s what pains me so deeply. Where is the reverence for the sacred? Where is the care for the precious?
When I go into the barn, I always turn my head to the right. Initials are carved into the wall there, with the year, 1920 inscribed below. I talk to them, the ghosts of those initials. I ask them if they might see our Mila. I wonder if they know her now that she is not here with us either. She has joined the souls who have left only initials on a wall. That is all that is left of them. A generation or two to hold the love for them, to remember, until they, we, too, return to the fray. They were here, they are gone, and nobody speaks of them anymore. Nobody remembers them. Not because they were less significant than any of us, but because that is the way it is. Because, we too will one day leave our bodies in favour of our spirits. Maybe, when we’re long gone, a human in the future will hold something or notice some tidbit that we put our care and bodily energy into and think, if only for mere seconds, “Would you look at that.”
I see those hand-forged nails in the boards of our barn and marvel. A real human being, a man with loves and hopes and dreams, laboured to build that sweet, humble little shelter so he could grow and raise the food he needed in order to feed his family. What was his wife doing then? Nursing her baby? Tending the garden while great pots of food bubbled in the summer kitchen? Plucking the evening’s chicken meal to be? Planting the yellow roses that still bloom today?
Their legacy was their children. And maybe those children or their children live on, but they are not here tending the same land. They do not see the old hinges that still hold or the weather-beaten boards that stand as monuments to the dead. When I go into our barn, I can feel those ghosts all around me. Whispers in the sweet smell of oats and fresh cut hay. Wind squeezing through the gaps and cracks, carrying laughter of farm boys and milkmaids.
She takes it, that old barn. She is beaten by the howling blizzards and torrential downpours. The weight of the snow threatens her shaky bones. She must sense the difference now, realize she’s the only one left standing. She must know that she is no longer storm-proof in her old age. Some of the beams that hold her up have disconnected. Some splintered posts reinforced over the years. The best she can do is open and allow the ravages to move through her. The best she can do is surrender.
I suspect the men that built this barn would not approve, but in our intent and will, and in our reverence, they might forgive. I wonder if the barn is just satisfied to be of use. We will never be the ones that built her up from the collection of fallen timbers of this land. She would have been in her prime then, just like them. She would, rightly, know them best. But our offerings to shore her up, hold her steady, must count for something.
This past summer, I spent day after day working in the loft of the barn. I hung string from one beam to another and draped cedar, sage, rosemary, savoury, calendula, amaranth, and wildflowers to dry. Sunlight streamed into my hideaway through her cracked skin, the whole of it smelling of drying herbs and the forest floor. She offered me peace. That holy temple of weathering glory, illuminating as majestically as any cathedral stained glass has ever done.
Every floorboard, every tenon, shaped by a hand and a mind and a body that has gone on to a place where my beloved daughter now lives. Maybe they’re not together. They are together, surely. That place of mystery and beauty so vast that even allowing it to touch me for a moment here and there, like in the loft of a silent barn, save the sound of the wind and a barn cat purring at my feet, is what I have now. There are no little girls to hold and squish and absorb. No Mila to carelessly toss her laugh on a sound wave to have delivered to my ear. There is only reverence for the crumbs I can sweep together.
There are big rock piles dotting our land. Areas that, when clearing the forests to make the fields, the people that once farmed this soil, threw the rocks. Every rock in every pile, all touched by the hands of the living and the loved and the loving and now, touched by me. How could that not be a communion of sorts? To hold and touch that which moved and felt and was seen by another must remember and carry with it, for all eternity, that moment. It must. It has to live on. And I can participate in that. To touch, too. To receive. To notice. To add something of value. To be a part of this great mystery in even the smallest of ways.
My temple has earth underfoot. My synagogue has a bustling wasp’s nest above. My church smells of fresh rain and dried rosemary. There is nothing to heal this pain only the deepest of love to walk along side. When I look up or down or anywhere around and I see an old nail that has popped out of the wall or I pay attention to the chisel marks on a hand hewn board and I think about what they may have been thinking about or talking about at the very moment their hands hammered or they used the power of their inhabited body to hoist a piece of wood. I move the rocks from their pile to an alter in the forest. I pluck a polkadot yellow and pink apple from a tree they planted, a tree that may just be the last of its kind, and I remember to say thank you. And there, in the act of reverence, I am participating in something much larger than I. I am reading the love letters I am given. I am listening to the messages they share. The sanctified waits to be known.