A Love Letter to Wendell Berry

“To use knowledge and tools in a particular place with good long-term results is not heroic. It is not a grand action visible for a long distance or a long time. It is a small action, but more complex and difficult, more skillful and responsible, more whole and enduring, than most grand actions. It comes of a willingness to devote oneself to work that perhaps only the eye of Heaven will see in its full intricacy and excellence. Perhaps the real work, like real prayer and real charity, must be done in secret.”

-Wendell Berry (The Gift of Good Land, “The Gift of Good Land,” 280-281.)

 

 

I wish I was like Wendell Berry. I wish I could set my metaphorical plow to the horizon and walk in a straight line. I wish I went to bed on time each night instead of watching SNL clips on YouTube. I wish I didn’t grow tired of walking. I wish I didn’t think about dating, and I wish I didn’t correlate my relational status with my relationship with God. I wish I worked out more. I wish I wrote more words when I sit down to write. I wish so many things.

I sat down to write a very flowery piece about Wendell Berry, but to be honest I don’t have that in me. I don’t have garden imagery, and I don’t feel like reminiscing about Oklahoma or my grandad who sounds a lot like Wendell. I just want to know if goodness is worth it. If it is worth it to live my life with the same uprightness Wendell does.

Obviously I know the answer. I know it is good to stand upright; that blessings fall on those sitting and those standing. That me being upright doesn’t guarantee I’ll date or be married or anything. I get that. But sometimes I’m just tired.

How did Wendell do it? I know he said when the weight of the world pressed heavy on him he would escape into “the peace of wild things.” I’m not sure what that would look like for me, but I for sure know I haven’t been doing it. Instead, I’ve been rushing from work to my homework and from my homework to church and from church to writing and so on and so on. There has been very little peace and only a lot of wild.

Wendell also says he doesn’t write by electricity; says he doesn’t want to be dependent upon the energy corporations. Lately I’ve felt if it weren’t for electricity and screens my days would be aimless and void. I’m always waiting on another text or email. Maybe she will text me back. Maybe that one guy with the job opportunity will get ahold of me.

And then there’s my favorite poem:

“There is a day

when the road neither

comes nor goes, and the way

is not a way but a place” (A Timbered Choir 216).

 

I feel surrounded by places I just bypass on my busy, little way. What does it look like to make this place and this time a place to rest? Recently, the classroom has been a resting place for me; it’s provided an anchor of peace amidst my scrambling. But I rush to class and then I rush to bed. The next morning I wake up and neglect the convent two blocks behind me and the foothills behind that. I neglect the peace of the fountain outside my window for my Twitter feed and ten more minutes under the covers. I neglect the places that offer solace for the ways that offer me easy connection and drained energy.

That poem, again:

“There is a day

when the road neither

comes nor goes, and the way

is not a way but a place” (A Timbered Choir 216).

 

What does it mean to follow in Berry’s footsteps when publishers aren’t interested in publishing you unless you have 20,000 social media followers? What does it look like to live with purpose—the same purpose that lives day-in and day-out like the quote that opened this piece—when you’re tired of being single and writing words into voids?

How does Wendell do it?

I know I’ve already answered the question in the act of asking it.

I know what Wendell would say, and I’ve already alluded to it.

Slow down.

Find something to work hard on.

Go for a run.

Care about the community in front of you and not the one in your head.

Seek places and not avenues.

Or, like he said in A Place in Time, “It is perhaps impossible for a person living unhappily with a flush toilet to imagine a person living happily without one” (88).

Be still.

But still. But still. But still.

Can I still ask the questions even if I know the answers?