Thursday, April 17, 2014

Embedded Work

by Andy

Our Farm Stay 4 students are deeply immersed in their experience. Soon they will be processing those experiences on this blog. But in the meantime, dear blog reader, you are stuck with my musings on a Sunday morning.

I was looking at the waste basket in the farmhouse bathroom the other day and I really noticed how much work went into it. I thought about how someone must have grown, harvested, dried and bundled the reeds. Others took the bundled reeds and wove the basket. Someone took piles and piles of woven reed baskets and prepped them to be to be shipped to the U.S., and then the supply chain continued full of people and resources until we purchased the basket and brought it home. So much work has gone into that basket. And then I looked around the bathroom. The room itself was built by the Pickards when they built the farmhouse, likely from wood harvested off the property. Given the bathroom's location and what I know about the foundation, it was probably part of the original floor plan. Somebody made the tub, the sink, the metal fixtures and the cupboards, all from resources that others extracted and processed. The recycled toilet paper came originally from trees and has gone through many processes of use and transformation to come to me. All of the personal care items in the cupboards required scientists, factory workers and testers (no animal testers here though!), not to mention the makers of plastic bottles. People grew and processed the herbs used to scent the soaps and shampoo in the shower. Someone grew and processed the luffa sponge. The clothing items I wear were likely woven on machines, but human hands surely crafted them on sewing machines. I am overwhelmed and humbled by the perhaps hundreds of people who have labored to make this moment in the bathroom possible. This has been happening more and more lately.

We have a bedspread that I bought on a trip to Guatemala. It was not woven on some sort of king-sized mechanical loom. Instead it was woven by hand in two-foot widen sections which were then sewn together using dyed yarn. The pattern is beautiful and I think it is natural fiber. I am sure that the person I bought it from did not make it. Instead they bought it for their stall in the marketplace from the people who made it or perhaps a middle-merchant. I don't remember how much I paid for it. I doubt it was more than $100. The retailer probably marked it up double. The person who made it had to buy the materials. The person who made it might have received at most a total of $20 to $30 for all their labor. It is not enough! Even I can see that a fast weaver would still take days to weave all that fabric, let alone sew it together and dye it.

My house is full of clothes, and dishes, and wooden items, and books, and electronics and everywhere I look I see all of the work of people's time and ingenuity that has gone into making things. It is a debt. And I know that the meager exchange of paper currency has not even begun to repay it. It is a mountain of debt, both literal and spiritual. I sometimes entertain wild notions that I could rid myself of this debt. Maybe if I work really hard and produce things of value to give back to the universe. Maybe if I give away all of my possessions except for the ones where the spiritual debt has been paid in full. Maybe if I consider every addition to my household extremely carefully before bringing it home. That could make shopping in the grocery store a paralyzing experience. Maybe I could send personal thank you notes. Maybe I could attempt to do the work of each item, so I could get a sense of what was done to produce these items. I do many of these actions already. I am a pretty conscious consumer. But, I know that there is a great force in my life that runs counter to these actions. This force is like a sleeping pill that keeps me in the mode of unconscious consumer.

Like many people of my country, I have no way to tell when I have enough. I surround myself with things and I still can't tell if it is enough. It is like I am trying to fill a bucket with holes in the bottom, but the more I put inside the bucket, there is still more room there is inside of it. It is never full. So the first question is about the nature of the bucket I am unconsciously trying to fill. I might have to patch up the holes first. Then I can think about the items that go into the bucket.

There is work embedded in everything. I want to wake up and become conscious of everything. Furthermore I want to bring the possibility of this consciousness to the adolescents with whom I have the privilege to work every day. For this is the task of adolescence: to enter the adult world of work. We are talking about their work and the work that connects them to the rest of humanity. What type of work is it? Is it joyful work? Is it work that honors and maintains the earth? Is the work well compensated? Is there slavery involved in the production of this item? Were people poisoned?These are the central social questions of our age. The dysfunction that collectively exists in the U.S.A regarding our stuff is one of the primary forces that puts people and nature in peril. Consequently, recognizing our indebtedness and acting from deep gratitude is the central task of any education that claims to meet the needs of adolescents.

We do not need to be paralyzed by our debts. Literally touching the earth at the Land School contributes to an appreciation of all that goes into the food we eat, and maintaining the property gives an intimate sense of gratitude for the work that goes into maintaining the built environments. I don't know that we will always feel the right amount of gratitude. I am just now coming to feel the true depth of my own appreciation. There is a lifetime of built up debt. I do know that any amount gratitude that we feel and express brings us all closer to the life of deep connection that we all want.

There are swallows flying outside who have just returned. Welcome home!


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