I don’t want to do this anymore. I am so done with this.
How did I ever get to think this is what I was meant to do with my life?
I am selling my home, property and what possessions I can shed for a price. The rest I will give away or abandon. I will find a home for the bees and animals. I first called them “my” bees and animals but they were never really mine. As for continuing prayer and meditation, I am undecided. It doesn’t seem to “do” anything anymore. I do not want to talk about this. I am simply going to leave.
I am moving to a small village in the Aosta Valley, in Italy. I will be able to see the Matterhorn from my window. No matter that I don’t speak Italian. Immersion is the best way to learn a language. In preparation, I am watching Italian movies with English subtitles. My current favorite is Martin Eden. In Italy, I will not be posting photos and do not expect to entertain visitors. I will walk and wonder. I will fix simple meals. I will find a new source of strength to begin again. If this Italian experiment should turn to naught, so be it, life is experimentation if it is anything at all.
An accident triggered this malaise, this train of thought. Sheep needing deworming and a hawk killing the chickens increased the inflammation. Again, I am finished. No kidding. Outta’ here. Vamoose. Gone like the wind.
It was another glorious morning, and I was out in the cool air inspecting the hives in the back field orchard. There are two hives and one had a new package of bees that I had installed earlier in the year. The other hive, which had survived a rather cold and snowy winter, was still going strong.
Although I call myself a beekeeper and a farmer (among a host of other names, good and bad), there are days when I am not filled with joy at all the work that’s required. It’s a lot for an ‘old man’ to keep up with; bees, chickens, geese, ducks, fruit and nut trees, sheep, a pond stocked with bass and bluegills, and the ongoing maintenance required on any small farm. It’s not so much a complaint (it is a bit) as a statement of how things sometimes weigh on me. Most days, my life flows with a quiet fullness that satiates both body and soul. On other days, it’s just work.
I pried the lid open on the hive with the new package of bees and worked my way to the bottom deep focused on the task at hand, looking to find the new queen, marked with a white dot on her back, so as to make finding her a bit easier. My eyesight hasn’t gotten better with age and I rarely wear my glasses under the veil when checking the bees.
I still had the hive tool in my hand, which was not customary. I usually laid it aside after opening the hive but the frames were sticky and I was using it to pry loose the frames and lift them out. Two frames in, I found my queen. She looked healthy and happy, as only a beekeeper can see, and her minions, acknowledging their appreciation for her existence, were building honeycomb. It appeared that we were well on our way to a solid honey harvest.
Sliding the frame back in, the hive tool slipped from my hand and in some bizarre “Act of God” (for lack of something else to blame), it struck the frame right where the queen was and knocked her to the bottom board. She was mortally wounded. I had little choice other than to squish her and finish her off.
The walls that keep my life from falling apart are brittle. It doesn’t take much to open a crack in my enclosure. With the death of this tiny bee, a wave of anger, nausea, and deep regret came rushing over me. I moved away from the hive and sat on the ground, still in my bee suit and started to cry. I had failed yet again. I was lost.
I got up, and considered just leaving the hive open to the elements. I no longer cared about the bees. I slammed the lid back on anyway and dragged myself back to the barn and tossed my outfit and the tools on the floor. I was filled with a sense of frustration and anger that would not let me be. I stewed in a pot of self-pity and resentment.
The death of this bee was followed by a hawk killing four chickens on four separate days, leaving the bloody carcasses for me to deal with. I took measures to “scare” the hawk away, to no avail. I moved a posse of geese into the orchard to serve as an early warning system but, ignoring the geese, the hawk flew in and almost caught “Big Silver”. She’s at the top of the pecking order and was fast enough to escape the attack. The hawk remains a threat. Shooting the hawk crosses my mind but it’s illegal without a federal permit and the hawk is “just” doing what hawks do. Still, I am upset.
Dead queen bee, hawk killing chickens, and now the two sheep, Woolbur and Fudge, have scours which is another word for diarrhea. I am in the front paddock, working alone. There is sheep shit on my pants, boots, and gloves. The smell is as you might expect. I am cleaning their tails, their back legs, and their butts to prevent flystrike. Sheep are particularly susceptible to this condition because their thick wool, if sufficiently contaminated with urine and fecal material, provides a breeding ground for maggots. After hatching, the maggots bury themselves in the sheep's wool and eventually under the sheep's skin, feeding off their flesh. It’s is a slow and painful way to die.
Docking their tails (cutting them off), is often used as a preventative measure to lessen the chance of flystrike, but docking brings its own set of problems and is becoming less of a formal practice. Sheep have tails for a reason, one of them being to spread fecal matter by swinging their tails as they defecate. In any event, cleaning the sheep was not an enjoyable experience. Why do I keep thinking this life is always supposed to be enjoyable? Why do I continue? Again, I ask, is this what I was meant to do with my life?
I am having an attack of acedia. It’s a deadly “sin”.
Acedia comes from the Greek word akedia meaning “lack of care”. It’s a profound weariness with one’s present reality. I repeat, a profound weariness. This weariness manifests as discouragement, irritability, and disgust with everything. Acedia tempts me to consider escape, to secure a respite from the perceived painful reality of where I am, to find renewal in Italy. It thwarts my ability to choose the good and robs me of what had been a source of great joy.
Acedia arises in response to the commitments we have made to ourselves, to others, and our vocations. It calls forth the question as to why we ever entered into these arrangements. What was I thinking when I thought it a good idea to become a farmer? a lawyer? a mechanic? Did I have even a clue when I signed up for this? Why should I keep going on? Why did I ever get married? Why am I still working here? Living here? Everything feels small and suffocating. Positivity is a burden and release seems imperative.
Acedia constantly reminds us of how we messed up. Filled with shame about the past or anxiety about the future, we look to escape. The escape takes many forms: technology, Netflix binges, travel to Italy, social media, pornography, alcohol, drugs, work, and laziness. We seek to medicate our wounds and mitigate our lack of self-worth. But these distractions don’t work for long. After a brief respite, we are left empty as the questions we try to avoid pop back up. Avoiding the questions can leave one trapped in this mindset for years never really progressing in life. We tell ourselves that we are fine just as we are, there is no need to revisit our commitments or the angst they generate. I’m fine. I will get through this. All this is just a whistling in the dark.
A characteristic of wisdom is not to do desperate things. When consumed with acedia, it’s prudent to stop and take stock. There are no simple answers and in this condition, anything becomes permissible as long as I call it by the wrong name. When I call my commitments “burdens”, I no longer see them as noble, inspiring, or life enhancing. They become an albatross around my neck and I can sanction any measure to be free from the life I have chosen.
Yes, I chose this life as you have chosen yours. I am never contained except that I made the prison. If I wish to break out, I must first confess to being in prison. And perhaps, it’s not a prison at all. I need to remind myself of this. There’s no convenient villain to blame and no one has assigned me this life. Even believing that this life is God’s will for me doesn’t take away from the fact that I must choose every day how I will live and to what purpose. I call things by the wrong name to enable me to pull away from what I have given myself to. I pretend I never agreed to this. I was trapped or tricked. Bamboozled. It’s not my fault.
But I can never truly leave the present moment no matter what name I give it. Ultimately, my commitment to my small farm, this sacred dwelling place, the creatures, the trees, and to the people who are part of my life, all of whom seem to be the very cause of my acedia, is the very path out of this malaise. The way out was everywhere I looked but nowhere in focus. The love I have for this place was asleep.
Yes, I get like this and perhaps you do as well. It’s not attractive nor pleasant, but I believe it is necessary and quite refreshing. It’s good, at times, to want to run from myself and my world and perhaps travel to Italy. It’s therapeutic in a “funny” kind of way. It can also be debilitating if not caught in time. I find it a profitable line of inquiry to revisit the commitments I made and rekindle the spark that gave rise to them. Things get dusty, memories fade, life gets hard, I forget why I embarked on the road under my feet. I fail to love what is present and seek to love what is possible instead.
If, while accepting the current moment, I look back hard enough, I see in the distance a young fellow with a bright smile, a twinkle in his eye and a bounce in his step who jumped on this path. He would never have known then the work, trials, and mad frustrations, that were down this road. And had he guessed, he most assuredly would not have concerned himself with them. He thinks; I can do this. It’s what I want to do. It’s what my life is meant to be.
A moment passes and this youthful self comes bounding along, catching up with his old man self and, laughing, knocks him to the ground. Get up you old fool! Stop your complaining! Remember me? Of course, you do! Come on let’s get back to work. We haven’t all day you know.
Arm in arm they go, skipping and whistling like nothing will ever stop them and there’s not a care in the world. Healed once again.