A few years ago, I heard the gifted storyteller Kiran Singh Sirah share a tale about the soul and the body getting separated by the speed of our modern modes of travel.
“Your body can be flung across the ocean in a matter of hours, but your soul doesn’t travel that fast,” he said. “It is only when your soul has had time to walk the same distance that you will be able to truly arrive.”
He himself had moved to America from Scotland, and during the early years of feeling profoundly displaced in his new home, he often imagined his soul trudging across the miles of ocean floor.
November will mark the 10-year anniversary of my move to the ranch. Before that, I lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, before that Portland, Maine, before that New York City … and the list goes on. Suffice it to say, if my soul was trying to keep up with my body, it had its work cut out for it.
Last week, we had our first frost, and I didn’t bring in the green tomatoes. We pulled what we wanted to eat from the vines all summer, but I didn’t can anything. I didn’t make sauerkraut from the cabbage. I didn’t even pick the cabbage; in fact, I just let it get eaten to the ground by the grasshoppers. I didn’t harvest garlic, didn’t make pesto from the basil to freeze for winter.
The grasshoppers were partly to blame — it was too depressing to face the carrot seedlings eaten down to stems just when they’d started to flourish or the perennial herb and asparagus garden I’ve spent years cultivating decimated in a few days. But the grasshoppers weren’t the only reason. By the second half of the summer, the early onslaught of those ravenous creatures had subsided, and I could have replanted and nursed back to health much of what I’d lost.
Why didn’t I? It was part existential (aka midlife) crisis, part health anxiety and uncertainty around a lot of unresolved and unexplained symptoms, part a deep, abiding fatigue — all of which got suddenly worse over the last few weeks. Or maybe it was my soul finally catching up with the rest of me. Either way, there’s been a reckoning.
As it turns out, I’ve spent a lot of years being pretty unkind to my body — pushing it through exhaustion, illness, grief — making it work when it needed to rest, and it’s possible my soul had some strong opinions on this pattern continuing. It’s even possible that one of the reasons I spent the decades previous to this one rushing around is that, raised in a culture that praises productivity above all else, I was a little scared about what my soul would say if it did catch up to me.
I don’t mean to imply that the last decade has been endless burden and toil. Quite the reverse. When I arrived on the prairie, I could finally hear the sacred, ancient rhythm of the earth and the songs of the seasons. I discovered the big quiet. I felt a burgeoning peace.
I’d left the constant pace of moving behind, and it was a relief, but old habits die hard, and youthful restlessness was replaced by the demands of early motherhood, running a ranch, trying to keep up with a creative career, believing I could and must do it all.
So, I went right on pushing my own still, small voice to the outer edges of my consciousness, and I kept right on doing instead of being — often only listening to myself in the few hours a week I spent writing this column or went out at dusk to wander briefly across through the wind and grass.
Now, instead of the fruits of my labor, I am harvesting the gifts of this mysterious illness; the tomatoes are returning to the earth while I lay out in the pasture watching the birds migrate across the blue October sky. And it feels like my body and soul might finally be getting reacquainted after so much time spent apart.
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