“Soon, this will all be over.” I was 11 years old, standing on the back of a bumpy hay wagon, reaching with a hay hook for the bales as they were being pushed off the bailer. It was 97 degrees, but it felt like 110 with the humidity. The air was heavy with heat, and my bare arms were aching, itching from the sweat pouring into the scrapes made by each bale. I was exhausted, this was the third and final wagon of the day and the sun bore down on us as the hot summer day wore on. “Soon this will all be over.” I repeated the mantra in my mind as I reached for another bale and carried it to the back of the wagon to stack. We pulled around the corner, the final row of freshly cut meadow grass racked into the bailer and deposited once more into neat, rectangular bales. I took a long drink from my water bottle, the water was hot by now but I didn’t care, I swallowed quickly, dropping down on the nearest hay bale. I breathed deeply, enjoying the soft breeze that now kissed my face as the tractor changed gears, speeding toward the barn. Once at the barn I hoped off the wagon, unhitched the bailer and connected the tractor directly to the wagon. Back up on the wagon, we slowly pulled the teetering tower of freshly cut hay into the bank barn, the floorboards creaking heavily as the weight of all that hay we had just lifted by hand settled in. Silence rested upon my ears as the tractor engine was cut. I let out one last sigh, lifted the last hay bale I had just stacked neatly in the wagon and heaved it up into the balcony to be stored. Time to unload…I begin my mantra again as I bend, lift, toss, bend, lift, toss, bend, lift toss. “Soon this will all be over.”
Growing up on the farm was an incredible period of my life, we experienced moments of hardship, but also so many countless moments of joy and beauty. I did so much discovering in that place, discovery of the world, discovery of myself. One of the greatest things I learned was to cope with temporary discomfort when I knew that it was contributing toward a reality that was worth it. When I was working for something that I loved, it was all worth it, no matter what momentary hardships might present themselves.
Although bailing hay was incredibly hard work, especially when I was so young, I accepted it as my responsibility, my “cost” for being privileged enough to grow up with horses. The privilege, to wake up before the sun, walk quietly out to the barn in a heavy sweater, and thick boots, pull back the barn door and be greeted by the warm smell of horses and the soft sound of their welcoming nickers. To grab a bridle, pull open the stall door and lead my horse out into the pre-dawn night. To pull myself onto her back, her thick fur immediately warming my legs, her ears forward looking into the night. To lie close to her neck, trusting that her eyesight at night is better than mine, and to lean into a smooth gallop with her, darkness enveloping my vision, the crisp air catching my breath, the stars shining softly as they fade into dawn. To lie flat on her back as she grazes, staring up at the sky, dreaming up ideas and futures, listening to the world wake up as the sun pulls itself slowly above the horizon. To sit, and embrace the warm golden rays as the sunshine spills into the field. This was all a gift, and every ounce of sweat was worth it. Without question.
Later on in life I would reach back into the memories of those hot summer days spent bailing, and I would retrieve that Mantra “Soon this will all be over.” The long drives on I-95 from Pennsylvania to North Carolina when I would be traveling between the home of my childhood and my new home of young adulthood. The late nights working as a bartender, having that one incredibly inappropriate come on that made me cringe and just want to dissolve into the wall. The commute across the Chinese/Hong Kong border with the roughly 300,000 other people every day after hours spent inside toxic factories. The hours spent walking in the pouring rain, rain that had been pouring for six days straight, and had taken up residence in every article of clothing that I had. The moments between homes, spent living out of suitcases on couches, with little privacy or feeling of independence. The end of the month that the numbers just don’t add up, and bills must be paid by credit card. The breaths taken behind a mask as I walk the streets of countless polluted cities, my lungs forever tarnished from exposure in China those many years before. “Soon this will all be over.”
Beyond all of those little moments of hardship, those brief memories of pain or discomfort, every single one of those moments was building toward something greater. Each was contributing to my growth as a person, to my development of self and my fearlessness and courage. Each of these moments that I once wished away, I continue to learn from with each reflection. I have realized over time the weight that these six simple words carry, and that they are not to be used lightly, as they go beyond the immediate moment, they go to the core of our own existence. Soon this really will all be over, and there will no longer be future moments in our life to cope with. In the end, we actually live our lives very quickly, the good and the bad.
I catch myself now, when I am wishing away my present, and rather than uttering that Mantra, I try to look for small opportunities to acknowledge and appreciate beauty within the present. Today I spent the day pruning vines on an organic vineyard. The task itself is not overtly laborious, it is not overly taxing but it can be somewhat monotonous and the mind tends to wander. After hours in the hot sun snipping and plucking, walking row after row, my mind was tempted to reach again for that Mantra. But no, not this time. This time I took a moment to acknowledge and appreciate. Looking at the horizon I am surrounded by mountains, all with dynamic shapes, sizes, colors and reliefs- snow caps straight ahead, to my right cacti blanket the mountainside, to my left steep thick green ridges. I smile, standing in awe of the rawness of their beauty. I look down at the vine I am trimming back, feeling love for the beautiful little buds that I am encouraging the vine to channel sap to. I imagine the small role I play in the life of this plant, the grapes that will be born from it, their journey to grow, be bottled and eventually end up in a glass poured in celebration and cheers- suddenly I am a vessel of fate for these grapes. My smile gets bigger. A soft breeze plays with my hair, I relish in the feeling of being outside all day, dirt on my hands, the sun on my back, surrounded by trees and birds, breathing in the clean, fresh air. I begin imagining how I will take the knowledge I am gaining from this project and build something from it. Gratitude overwhelms me. It is a lovely day, and I hope that this is not over too soon; I continue onto the next row.
Have you ever caught yourself wishing away your present moments, rather than digging in and pulling out every last drop of life you have in the present? What have you done about it? It takes practice, for me anyway, and a level of consciousness, but I have found there is so much beauty around us, it can always be found, should we only choose to seek it. Our perspective of challenges can be shifted dramatically when we find moments to appreciate within the midst of them, before it’s all over.