Welcome, dear readers, to another month of taking metta off the meditation cushion and out into the world.
Last month found me volunteering on an organic livestock farm to help with lambing, as described in Metta Had a Little Lamb. When my next placement, helping an organic market garden for the summer, got in touch to explain that there had been an unforeseen two-week delay in being able to welcome me, my exhausted doula’s heart sank a little.
It was too short notice to plan a holiday or visit friends, and frankly I just wanted to sleep after helping for all hours in the lambing pen. And so I emailed all the local farms registered with the volunteering scheme on the off-chance that someone might need a short-notice helping hand.
I received an unusual reply from a couple who were new parents and, as such, hadn’t planned on hosting a volunteer this summer, but they could really do with some help preparing their agricultural polytunnel for spring: was I perhaps available to stop by for a brief in-person chat? When I looked them up on a map, it turned out that they lived on the opposite side of the valley and I’d had a direct view of their farm over the past month. On arrival, I was met by a young mother, carrying her newborn son in a sling and her two-year-old daughter holding her hand, looking even more tired than I felt! I jokingly pointed to the field opposite with the 89 lambs that I had helped bring into the world in March as my new “babies.”
The woman gave me a tour of their farm and farmhouse, explaining what would help in preparation for spring and that they were hoping to take their first family break away over Easter. Would I feel confident looking after five goats solo? I chuckled, remembering all the crazy-daisy adventures of my seven house sitting years—as described in The Lily Pad Sutra—and thought, how hard can goat-nannying be? The couple had bought the house and land for a reasonable price as it hadn’t been upgraded since the 1970s and the owner had died a few years previously. Apparently, on the same day they picked up the keys to their new home the chimney had collapsed. To hear them tell the story, it was one of the funniest and scariest tales of buyers’ remorse I’d ever heard. And before their first daughter was born, they had quickly converted the hayloft into an apartment so that they could carry on renovating the main house themselves using trees felled and milled from their land.
Walking around, it became obvious that just about every aspect of their lives was under both literal and figurative construction. And, understandably, not much had been touched or prepared for the upcoming growing season in the polytunnel or garden as their hands were both literally and figuratively full.
We discussed what tasks I could help them with, and agreed that I would move across the valley—not even a quarter mile as the crow flies—two days later.
My first week felt very gratifying, helping where help was needed: sowing seeds, preparing vegetable beds, and building a trellis. When I saw just how cramped their hayloft living conditions were compared with mine staying alone in the five-bedroom farmhouse (although it looked more like the Addams Family mansion than an image out of Homes & Gardens magazine at this stage), I resolved to create some clutter-free, peaceful corners for the young mother by tidying and organizing the polytunnel and potting shed. I may not have been able to give the family the gift of missing sleep, but perhaps creating a few oases of peace could help bring some calm to the present, as well as motivate their next steps?
She loved both surprises, and daily told me what a pleasure it had become, rather than a dread, to spend time in them. By this stage, I honestly thought my work there was done, little knowing that very soon the real reason the Dharma had moved me across the valley would be revealed.
It started innocently enough on Good Friday: I was weeding the garlic bed and looking for snail shells in the soil with their toddler daughter, when the young mother explained that the baby was running an unexpectedly high fever and she wanted to take him to the local hospital to make sure it was nothing serious. Sadly, due to the Easter weekend, extended waiting times, and meningitis testing protocols, she ended up spending three days in hospital with him!
And so their family break turned instead into her husband frantically driving back and forth to the hospital for support, as well as keeping his daughter’s spirits up and the goats out of trouble back home. Trying to think what might help, I generated metta, made food, spring-cleaned the kitchen, tackled three loads of backlogged laundry, and did my (unsuccessful) best to keep the goats from climbing trees and onto the roof.
When mother and son were finally released on Easter Monday, we all hugged in the driveway, exhaled after climbing the inner walls, and I left them to catch up on yet more missing sleep. I had to chuckle to myself at my naiveté in thinking that a month of lambing was exhausting compared with a couple of decades raising humans!
That weekend had given me a glimpse into the pressure the father was feeling to finish his workshop so that he could start working on the house renovation. He joked that at the rate he was progressing, it might only be done once the kids were at university. And so I offered to spend my three remaining days helping him.
As I happily hammered in joists and oiled wood for his gorgeous woodworking workshop, he was able to voice his thoughts and feelings about taking on such a massive project alongside starting a family. I listened between driving in nails, and suggested listing the property as a film location, as all those cobwebs and crumbling walls could well be the dream house of some horror film set designer until he was able to make it into their family dream house.
On the day I was due to move on, I gave them three handmade vouchers: the first was for an Easter Do-Over Farm-Sit on the weekend of their choice; the second was for decluttering another corner that they couldn’t face alone; and the third was a reminder for any time they needed it of what a great job they were doing as parents.
The young mother welled up, threw “thank you” arms around me, and confessed that nobody tells you how hard parenting is going to be. I reassured her that her two kids were among the happiest I’d come across in a long time, so clearly they were doing something—if not most things—right. And we pinned the reminder voucher to the family wall-planner for whenever they needed to read it on good authority!
In turn, they thanked me for everything, sweetly saying that I had been the help they hadn’t known they’d needed.
Hilariously, not even a week later, I received a text in the market garden asking me if it was too soon for their Easter Do-Over? I happily assented, returning that Friday evening to spend a thoroughly uneventful two days looking after their work-in-progress and—successfully, this time—keeping the goats from climbing, frankly, anything.
And so, dear readers, whether it’s sleep, a spring-clean, reassurance, a do-over, or perhaps even goats of which you feel you currently need more, please generate both metta and vouchers for any or all of the above—preferably with no terms and conditions, and no expiry date.
Or, to metta-morphose Sara Bareilles’ song “Brave”:
Everybody’s been there
Everybody’s been stared down by the enemy
Fallen for the fear
And done some disappearing
Don’t run, stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days, you can let the light in
And show me, how big your metta is
Related features from BDG
Building a Better Life
Northeasterly Winds and Balanced Effort
We Become Who We See
The Language of Kindness
Rainy Day Contemplations on Suffering