Wendell Berry tells a story about an old bucket hanging on a fence post along his daily walking route near his home. He can’t remember how long the bucket has been hanging there, but it’s not the sight of the bucket that stirs his interest it is what is inside that he marvels over.
He writes in his essay The Work of Local Culture that; For what is going on in that bucket is the most momentous thing I know, the greatest miracle that I have ever heard of: it is making earth. The old bucket has hung there through many autumns, and the leaves have fallen around it and some have fallen into it. Rain and snow have fallen into it, and the fallen leaves have held the moisture and so have rotted. Nuts have fallen into it, or been carried into it by squirrels; mice and squirrels have eaten the meat of the nuts and left the shells; they and other animals have left their droppings; insects have flown into the bucket and died and decayed; birds have scratched in it and left their droppings or perhaps a feather or two. This slow work of growth and death, gravity and decay, which is the chief work of the world, has by now produced in the bottom of the bucket several inches of black humus. I look into that bucket with fascination because I am a farmer of sorts and an artist of sorts, and I recognize there an artistry and a farming far superior to mine, or to that of any human. I have seen the same process at work on the tops of boulders in a forest, and it has been at work immemorially over most of the land-surface of the world. All creatures die into it, and they live by it.
How often do we overlook that we are simply just a small, microscopic part of the “chief work of the world”. The harsh realty is that each of us tend to forget that our overall “importance” to this vast universe can only be measured by a slim few who are themselves as minuscule as we are. There isn’t anything wrong with being small and microscopic, honestly, given the alternative I think most of us would prefer it that way. But what happens to someone who believes themselves to be indispensable? Someone who considers themselves to be the Sun and the rest of us mere rocks in their orbit?
For years I battled the disease I refer to as “self-importance” whose only known cure is, fortunately or unfortunately depending on your perspective, being humbled and or possibly humiliated and I was the recipient of both vaccinations. It’s sad that I ended up in such a sorry state given that I was surrounded by loving, caring and very humble people who should have been shinning examples of how to live a life well lived, but I missed the messages because I was too busy reading my own press clippings.
I do take some small amount of solace in knowing that I was able to conform and mend my ways while I still had a few pages left on the calendar. But I do regret the amount of time that I spent so self-absorbed, helping myself rather than others. The physical rewards of success might be bright and shiny but as Jesus stated they are just as likely to be destroyed by moths, vermin and rust.
You see buying a homeless man a cup of coffee and a biscuit at Hardee’s or giving your umbrella to young women walking in the rain to her minimum wage job at McDonald’s is how we create layers, how we make earth as Wendell Berry describes. Sometimes we become to focused simply on the death, gravity and decay of the world and forget about the growth, both internal and external growth.
Growing our hearts can be hard and certainly dangerous at times. For many of us it is our most precious treasure to be given only to those we believe will handle it with care. But hearts were made to be broken, it is the exercise of the soul, a wall removed, a necessary pain that opens our life up to endless other possibilities.
Rather then leaves, twigs, nuts and feathers let’s build our rich humus with layers of love, compassion, empathy and perspective, yes for even Trump and his supporters. The world is filled with enough hate, enough self, and enough ego. We can each change the world even though our efforts may seem small and unimportant but as Percy Ross noted “Many drops make a bucket, many buckets make a pond, many ponds make a lake, and many lakes make an ocean.”