“Keep sowing your seeds morning and night, for you never know which will grow–
perhaps it all will.” –Ecclesiastes
When my Grandmother turned 80, she decided to terrace the hill in front of her farmhouse with stonewall. All winter she clipped photos from gardening magazines and sent them to me. Her idea required a wall fifty feet long and two feet high.
When I went to visit in late February, an annual trip I made to see her and prune her orchard, she detailed her plan. She couldn’t afford to pay someone to build the wall, but she had a pile of flat field stones from the excavation of her house’s foundation. They were at the bottom of the hill near the pond. She would use these. She’d bring the stones herself and build the wall herself. When her asked how, she said, one at a time.
My Grandmother was dairy farmer until the work of a dairyman became too difficult. For thirty years, she milked the cows twice a day, everyday. She was strong, tough, tenacious. She had always done what she’d a mind to do. But carrying heavy buckets of milk, mucking stalls, and bailing hay had taken a toll on her body. So had time. At 80, she was stooped, and arthritis bent her fingers at angles. Still, I didn’t doubt she would build the wall she wanted in her garden. After all, this was the woman who, from kindergarten through high school, didn’t missed day of school. This was the woman who at 76, lived in a pickup truck for two years while the house she’d designed and was helping build was being finished.
We set the first stone few stones together while I was visiting. Each morning after this, she took the Radio Flyer wagon down the hill to the pile of slate, tipped it on its side, and coaxed one stone unto with a hoe. Then righting the wagon, she towed the stone 100 yards uphill and maneuvered it into place.
She moved one stone a day. Everyday. For three years. The daily ritual took her an hour or two depending on how her body felt. She worked in all weather with a clear, and simple purpose which she wrote at the top of a to-do list before going to bed, a reminder of what was important: bring up a stone.
When I struggle to write, when I doubt myself as a writer, my ability I I think of my grandmother going down the hill with her red wagon and dragging up one stone to put on the wall. Several years ago, I wrote on a large piece of construction paper, Write Today! I tacked this to living room wall so I’d be reminded to write everyday.
Each thing we create requires something from us. Some days are more exacting than others. Sometimes we want to quit. Other days the work flows. The satisfaction we get from our work, the sense of accomplishment, doesn’t come from the finished product so much as the experience of the process, our struggle to wrestle from ourselves what we dreamt of, prayed for, and needed to manifest.
Writing is physical, mental, emotional work. It’s bodily work. We birth images, characters, stories. It can take years to get it all to fit, to balance it, and finish.
The battle is never lost in doing. It is lost in not doing. Devotion means to focus, to attend to the work at hand. Devotion is a coming to love, a coming into relationship with ourself, our creative self, one day at a time, for a few minutes or a few hours a day. Our consistency assures the work is progressing. At some point what we are creating moves beyond our original dream, it moves beyond the page, and beyond what we thought we were capable of creating. It becomes a life all its own.