I wish I could say I’m at ease with dirt. I know, we’re moving to a place with abundant dirt, how could I not be okay with it? I wish I could say I don’t mind getting dirty. Stephen and I like to recall our third date when after we went hiking on the 4th of July (and I felt dirty), he invited me to spend the day with him and see fireworks, but I declined because I couldn’t stand being dirty all day. My response seems absurd now, but at the time seemed perfectly reasonable. The truth is that I’m a happier, more pleasant person when I’m clean. My 2 1/2-year-old daughter Zoey fortunately, I suppose, doesn’t have the same dislike of dirt that I have. That’s her in the photo above reaching down to pick up some dirt seconds before she threw it on herself and the ground while holding her “Strawberry baby.” She’s teaching me to let go of my need to be clean all the time and just to enjoy this natural world of our ranch. So we sit down on the ground, in the dirt, on the rocks, on the grass. And the amazing thing is how free I feel just enjoying being in the dirt. Zoey has taught me how to put my issues, concerns, worries, anxieties, hang-ups aside and just be present in the here and now. I’m still a work in progress. I haven’t completely embraced dirt. I still want a clean house without traces of dirt all over the floor and furniture. I still cringe when she picks up hawk feathers that in my mind may be diseased or the walnut shell that appears to be rotting. But I keep these things to myself because I want my daughter to be free of those irrational fears of “dirty things.” To Zoey, things just are. A feather is a feather, dirt is dirt. Neither good or bad. She sees things in their natural state–just as they are. I imagine that’s how God looks at us–in our natural state–seeing us as we really are, not the person we pretend to be.
Last week I started Andrea Scher’s online photography class Superhero Photo. Her class today was about “elevating the ordinary” in order to capture the beauty of ugly things. I can’t quite figure out why the dead winter grass at the ranch appears to be more worthy of a photo-op than the dead winter grass in our backyard where we’re renting. Why do I see the beauty of the ugly reeds lying beside our lake yet shudder to look out our kitchen window at the place we now call home?
I think perhaps I can tolerate the dirt and the seemingly ugliness of winter at the ranch right now because of the spaciousness–there’s room to breathe out there. Here at the house we’re renting, I feel closed off to nature even while being outside. Andrea’s prompt to see ugly things with new eyes reminded me of a little story I read while on retreat in college. It goes like this:
“Where shall I look for Enlightenment?”
“Here,” the Holy One said.
“When will it happen?”
“It is happening right now,” the Holy One said.
“Then why don’t I experience it?”
“Because you do not look,” the Holy One said.
“What should I look for?”
“Nothing,” the Holy One said. “Just look.”
“Anything your eyes alight upon,” the Holy One said.
“Must I look in a special kind of way?”
“No,” the Holy One said. “The ordinary way will do.”
“But don’t I always look the ordinary way?”
“No,” the Holy One said. “You don’t.”
“Why ever not?” the disciple demanded.”
“Because to look you must be here,” the Holy One said. “You’re mostly somewhere else.”
-from “The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages” by Joan Chittister
That’s the challenge, isn’t it? Really seeing things as they are and being present in the moment without judgement.