“Untilled soil, however fertile it may be, will bear thistles and thorns; and so it is with man’s mind.”
–St. Teresa of Avila
“Rain is grace; rain is the sky condescending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.”
The rain’s returned. Out the window, trees bend in submission. The maple seeds twirling in the wind remind me the cold winter will soon strip the branches bare, exposing them to the world.
It’s coming whether we like it or not.
I run through puddles reflecting gray light hearing a voice from my memory: “Finish your business.” Though I don’t remember what he meant, I do recall suffering the shame of my grandfather’s scolding.
What business did he mean? And does it matter?
This could be a mere thistle but I know better than to ignore it. I can’t catch them all, but this one seems important. Grandpa would probably be disappointed to know I still fail at heeding more than I succeed. But his voice from distant past has come back a few times now, and this morning it’s swirling with the leaves in the wind.
It’s time to pay attention.
It’s still unclear what the phrase connected to. Childhood, no doubt, but when? Grandpa was the near-silent type, the kind who don’t give two words where one will do. And mine had expectations, one of which was boys doing as they’re told. I didn’t appreciate this at the start, and certainly not that day we chopped wood in the rainy forest, the high trees keeping us only partly dry. But his love slowly dawned on me, stripping away in my maturity and revealing itself.
He treated everyone the same, my grandpa, taking time to hold their standard up and letting folks encounter it as they chose. He could be the furthest thing from my mind until suddenly I became aware I had not been far from his. No one escaped my grandpa. I often couldn’t manage what he asked, but his disappointment never lasted long. He’d learned patience sometime before. When I was small, I rode on his shoulders. But he wasn’t the easy, friendly kind and it was hard for the younger ones.
Years gone now, he utters the stern phrase again: “Finish your business.”These preparations for winter, they were important to him. And maybe no one knew exactly why but him. We would finish our business that day of filling the bed of his light blue El Camino with firewood, come rain, sleet or fiery hell.
He wouldn’t have meant my emotional business, though that’s how I could take it now. My grandpa knew we pay for what we leave unfinished. We attend to it or suffer the consequences. No one gets a free ride, and maybe especially his grandsons.
It’s rained all night and only retreated this morning. I run gingerly on the soggy path. Like those before him, he lived out his link in the long chain of unexpressed emotion and the new world would have been foreign to him where men cry and scientific books promoting vulnerability become bestsellers. Listening to this memory could reveal something of myself to myself, and it doesn’t seem merely a writer thing, but a human thing, to keep the ears perked, heart at the ready.
And maybe I’ve needed the reminder because listening requires much more than a little time and attention. Humility about our blind spots. And, I suppose, honesty that with our limited perspective, often the best thing for us may be a little cold rain.
Is that why this came up?
I’ve always loved the rain of fall, the comforting gray sky that blankets the morning sun. The wind gusts and sends leaves swirling down, spinning their leafy wings like birds trying to land, then taking off again, no one to guide them.
But the wind. I watch it set them soaring into the sky.
It picks them up and the trees shake more heavy drops, their own rainstorm mimicry, a sound they all know by heart.
The stream has turned into a river along the path and where it jogs through the drain pipe beneath, it chatters noisily and continues on.
I’ll tell Sheri my idea when I return that writers are simply those who attend to the unfinished business whenever it’s revealed and she’ll listen and agree, which gives me the thought this practice isn’t only for writers. We must all pay attention to things that seem ordinary and treat them as gifts from the wind we know not of, and cannot see or even touch.
If we’re willing to pay attention we may just experience its effects.
Because winter’s coming. And the truth will out. And seeds and leaves can pile up and block the gutters. Sometimes I don’t take time for them and they back up and on weekends I end up forcing them rushing and chattering through the pipe.
Long unfinished business, unforgiveness, fears and anxieties, impossible barricades to keep us safe, we have to allow ourselves to be stripped down, even if we may shiver and ache in the cold. Life must be given permission and we can’t live afraid of what might happen.
I often balk and get frustrated for the time it takes to find the beauty. But maybe today I need to finish my business and let the wind and the rain come, and know it requires at least this much effort to believe what I don’t understand as gifts are carrying me to what will soon be recalled. It may be painful at first glance. But listen anyway. And let the wind swirl. And it may become what I always imagined, a few moments closer to the wonder.
I pass the neighbor’s garden, nearly home now. And I can’t hold it back any longer.
I miss you, Grandpa. And I think I have for a long, long time.
Maybe the essential knowledge is that a process is underway. Let the season have its time to do its work. Just slow down and do your work of noticing.
Finish your business.
The wind comes again through the trees from far off as I return to my house in the wet woods. I slow to a canter, take out my headphones and listen.
Whatever reason he was saying it to me then, he was speaking to me now as well. Attention is the work to which we all must commit. Take the time to finish your job.
I feel like raising my arms to be blown clean like a wish, my tender fibers loosening, ready to fly. I step under the old twisted maple in the front yard, its fresh shower cooling the tears suddenly springing to my eyes on my upturned face.
“Many a man curses the rain that falls upon his head, and knows not that it brings abundance to drive away the hunger.”