The Day the Bush Scolded Me

One bright spring day when I was in the third grade, I was having a conversation with the boy who lived a few houses from mine. We stood in his front yard, the only one on the street that had a basketball hoop. We—me and the neighborhood guys— would play pickup basketball in the boy’s driveway a good part of the year. However, the guys suddenly went from always wanting me on their team to not wanting me around at all. The boy with the basketball yard was defending the male opinion, and the conversation was a bit tense.

As do many people with labels such as OCD and Asperger’s Spectrum, I tend to center myself and listen, think, and feel better when doing something mindlessly repetitive with my hands. At school, I would take apart my mechanical pencils and put them back together again, over and over and over during classes. Sometimes, I would take a small piece of paper, methodically tear it into tiny bits, and make a neat pile on my desk. When I was outside, I often picked up dry leaves that had fallen to the ground, tearing them to pieces that would flutter gently back to earth.

That day, as I listened to the boy, I automatically and unconsciously searched the ground for a twig or leaf, but none were to be found: The strong March winds that rushed the white cloud puffs through the sky had carried away any desiccated foliage left from the previous autumn. 

Lacking a fallen twig, I reached for a leaf from the hedge beside us. My mind bushed aside a thought that came as my hand moved: “Don’t pick. The bush is alive.” 

My hand continued. I picked a leaf, a few leaves. The boy kept talking. I started breaking the vibrantly green, pliant leaves I had just plucked and letting the cracked pieces fall onto the ground.

WHOOSH. 

All exterior sights and sounds stopped. I felt as if I were in a vacuum. Although I could no longer hear the boy, I heard — sensed — another voice. It was clear, it was direct, and it was inside, yet it was also coming from the bush and the leaves, which came sharply back into visual focus.

“WHY DID YOU PICK US? WHY ARE YOU JUST KILLING US AND DROPPING US?”

I remained motionless. The bush continued to speak, more quietly, transmitting rather than speaking words. The bush made me understand it was alive, all plants and rocks were alive, and that I was not to forget they were living beings, with feelings, intelligence, and wisdom. Yes, plants could be picked, eaten, used with moderation for right purpose, yet humans should do so consciously, with gratitude. And rocks and earth and water were also to be respected, talked with, used judiciously, given thanks.

I listened, felt inside what the bush was communicating. I looked at the broken leaves I had dropped and bent down to caress them. Silently, I apologized to the leaves and the bush, thanked the plant, and said whatever was my version of a prayerless prayer. 

Marveling and dumbstruck by this direct yet loving communIcation, I walked away. 

The boy seemed upset — he was not done stating whatever complaint he had with me — but I had heard what was important: The bush.

Yes, bushes, trees, plants, rocks talk with us. Always. All of us. We just need to listen. 

In a culture based on competition, physical dominance, and external power, it sometimes seems easier to forget, to bury, to discount as crazy the voices, the lives, the importance of our plant and rock and nature siblings. 

I can’t. 

We can’t. 

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Appreciation

Want to appreciate someone in a way you may never have before?

Take something apart.

I’m not kidding. This is an important lesson, especially if you’ve never made anything by hand.

If you have never whittled, worked with wood; sewn, worked with fabric; welded, riveted, worked with metal; or made something by hand—then take something apart. Carefully, methodically, and thoughtfully, undo all the pieces of something that a person used their hands to make.

A shirt, for instance.

Find a well-made, long-sleeve collared dress shirt, preferably of 100% cotton. Get a seam ripper or Exacto knife, and set aside an hour or two. 

You’re NOT to destroy the shirt by shredding it to pieces — that would entirely circumvent the point of this exercise.

Study the shirt, and with the seam ripper, carefully and methodically undo each seam, each stitch, each button, and each label. As you take the shirt apart, lay each piece of the shirt on a table. You’ll probably find there are more pieces than you realized, more seams than you imagined, and wonder how in the world someone stitched all those pieces together. Or even figured out how to design and cut the pieces so they fit together perfectly.

That’s getting to the point of this exercise. 

As you take the shirt apart, consider the pieces. How were they sewn together? How were the pieces of fabric cut before they were sewn together? Look at the little edges folded under — consider the dexterity of the fingers that folded the fabric so precisely. The skill of the fingers that guided the fabric through the sewing machine, fingers next to the needle going up down fast fast fast so fast that needle-hole marks punctured too-close fingernails.

If there’s a pattern to the fabric, does the pattern match where the seams fasten together different pieces of fabric? What kind of skill did that take, to cut and to sew and to design the shirt so the patterns matched across fabric pieces?

Can you easily get the seam ripper in between the individual stitches of the collar? Can you even see the stitches? Think of the person sewing the collar — what would their eyes feel like at the end of the day, after making the shirt?

What about the buttons? The placket? Do you even know what a placket is? Or the yoke of a shirt?

Don’t give up. Don’t put the shirt down and forget about the exercise. 

Think about the person making the shirt. They didn’t put it down and give up on making it.

Finish taking the shirt apart. Your taking it apart was easier than their making it — and you probably never thought of who made your shirt before, or the skill, the time, the difficulty making it.

Yes, this shirt was probably made in a factory, by several people, each sewing a particular part. But years ago, a tailor, or your mom, would have made the shirt for you, to your specific measurements, stitching each piece at their machine. (Even further back in time, they would have stitched entirely by hand, without a sewing machine.)

The hours, the abilities, the love of the tailor or mother for their craft: So much once went into the making of a shirt, and were valued by the shirt’s owner and wearer.

Now, the maker of the shirt is too often lost, a faceless factory-worker who has become, like the shirt itself, a commodity to be discarded. 

And you — the wearer of the shirt — feel this lack of care just as much as the anonymous maker of the shirt, but you probably don’t have words for the sensation. Blinded by labels and advertising, fashion and merchandizing, clothes-wearers pay for expensive brands, yet feel a lack of . . . something.

The “something lacking” is NOT a new fashion, not a replacement shirt, not a different brand shirt.

The “something lacking” is the spirit of the maker. 

Mass-produced items don’t have the same anima, the same spirit, as a handmade item. 

Items made with care and love bear the spirit of the maker. Mass-produced items bear the ghost of industrial production, the shell of spirit. 

We feel this, yet most can’t name what’s missing: the anima of the item and the spirit of its maker. 

We’ve discarded them. 

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Posted on Mother’s Day with much love and appreciation for my mom, a master seamstress who made me, among other things, many shirts, and fostered my appreciation of the handmade and hand-makers.

May Each of Us Be a Rose

Walking through the rose garden in the nearby park, admiring the beautiful buds, rejoicing in the open flowers, enjoying yet somewhat lamenting the now-fully-bloomed, petals-about-to-fall roses, and delighting in the intermingled perfumes of the diverse bushes, I also marvel and learn from our rose-siblings. 

Roses are roses, and beautiful in every way. 

Roses don’t question their spirit, their anima, their life as a rose. Even after having been cut down, roses flourish. After all, that’s what flowers do.

Rose buds don’t question whether or not they should pursue blossoming. A bud does not think, “There are enough roses of this color. I don’t need to blossom” or “Why bother? No one will see me” or “I wish grew on that side of the garden; more people would see me. It’s not worth blossoming here.” 

When the rose blossoms, individual flowers don’t compare themselves to others on the same bush or another bush. They don’t try to steal another blossom’s sunlight, block their water, or try to be better than other flowers. 

Fully-bloomed, petals-about-to-fall roses don’t lament their stage of life. I’m the one who labels them and feels a tinge of sadness at their scattered descent to the earth.

The petals fallen on the ground are beautiful, even when their edges are curled. I stop, pick them up, and offer them with a prayer to the bush, to nature, a saint, a friend, God. 

The rose did not consult any petal usage statistics and determine whether to grow, to blossom, to give happiness — to be.

Completely and fully, the rose is.

And if no one sees it, if no one collects a fallen petal and treasures it, the rose bush still grows and flourishes. It does not doubt its existence or importance in the grand scheme of life. 

May each of us be a rose. 

~KMK