I'm harvesting coriander seed.
We've got a lot – we let a bunch of cilantro plants go to seed this year. They'll re-seed and we'll have cilantro springing up in all sorts of unexpected places next spring. And with the rest of the seed, we'll have – well – a surplus of whole coriander seed.
The stalks of coriander grow tall and then turn brown, and then it's time to cut them. We had a bunch of it hanging in the pantry during ourt camping trip because I didn't have time to pick off all the seeds before we left. But it seems like a good project for today. Something I can do in between loads of laundry and sinkloads of dishes.
It seems to be mindless work – picking the seeds off the thin coriander stalks. Doesn't require a lot of attention or expertise. But I find that I spend a lot more time in my mind while doing this sort of thing than I do otherwise, and so, for me, it's not mindless, but mindful.
At first, all there was was the line from a hymn:
"We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves."
I think I learned it first watching Little House on the Prairie, and later recognized it when we attended church for a while.
I might have originally thought it was "bringing in the sheets." I didn't know about sheaves. We lived in town. No sheaves there.
So that's what I was doing…
Picking coriander seed and
Bringing in the sheaves,
Bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing,
Bringing in the sheaves.
Over and over.
I am doing it differently this year. Last year I tried to pull the different stalks apart so I could systematcially work on one stalk at a time. But the heads of coriander would tangle together and as I pulled them apart, the seeds would break free and fly all over the kitchen.
This year, I am snipping the stalks into smaller, more manageable pieces. And I am not caring if I finish one stalk before another. There is a time and a place for being rigid and orderly. I have learned that harvesting coriander seeds is not one of those times.
So I snip and gently pry the seeds off and toss the empty stalks and stems into a bowl. I work at a moderate pace. I like this work. I like to let my mind go where it will.
Bringing in the sheaves…
We shall come, rejoicing…
It's a song for harvest time, obviously. And for giving thanks. You grow your own food, you have a definite appreciation for whatever bounty you bring in. Some years the squash do well, other years you have more tomatoes than anything else. But whatever you get, you are grateful. Because there's a lot of work that goes into growing your own vegetables. Or fruits. Time and work and thought and prayer. Please let the light be right. Please let there be enough water. Please let this be the right sort of soil, with the right levels of nitrogen and calcium and whatever else the plants need. Please, let them bear fruit.
And sometimes everything works out, and you are practically drowing in zucchini and eggplant and tomatoes and, yes, coriander seed.
Other years, you shake your head and wonder what you should have done differently – or if that would have even made a difference. And you look over at your neighbor's yard and wonder why, why do they have a bumper crop and you don't? They're right next door, for crying out loud! And they don't even water the garden every day! Why? Why?
Not a very satisfactory answer.
And your neighbors, maybe they feel bad, and so they offer you some of their surplus zucchini. Which is very nice of them and all, but it's not the same. It's zucchini, yes, or a juicy brandywine tomato, but it didn't grow in YOUR garden. And it tastes good, because it is fresh and didn't travel miles on a truck, but you know, deep down in your gut, that it would taste a lot better if you'd grown it yourself.
And sure, there are probably scientific reasons your plants didn't produce. Not enough compost. Too much damp weather. Grubs and cutworms attacking beneath the earth.
But still, it doesn't answer the small, crying, clawing WHY?? deep down inside, does it?
And of course, you can always go to a farmers' market…or the grocery store. There are plenty of tomatoes and zucchini out there, just buy some! It all tastes the same, right?
This is usually suggested by people with jars of tomatoes on their pantry shelves and a freezer full of zucchini bread. They have plenty. They don't know what it means to WANT. And not just to want any old piece of produce, just because it's there. Although they may be perfectly nice cabbages, of course. But still, there's that part of you that longs to grow your very own cabbage. And no, the one from the store DOESN'T taste the same.
Not at all.
Don't you hate metaphors?
So smug, so clever…
She's not really talking about vegetables at all, is she?
Oho, so clever and sneaky and deep, she is.
Just, maybe, hesitant. Reluctant to be specific.
Because the "vegetables" are different for different people.
But the pain is there, regardless.
Longing. Aching. Emotional. Pain. Beyond sadness.
So much pain.
It can be so isolating.
And people don't understand. They don't realize. They add to the hurt, sometimes without intending to, but unthinking. Not realizing. Not meaning to…but unaware and un-sensitive to it.
I have friends in this kind of pain. I am not there; I don't feel what they feel. But I know they hurt.
And I wish I could fix it. Make the pain stop. Make the hurt go away.
And of course, I can't.
So I am just there. And I try to listen, and to hear what they say. And I try not to cause more pain.
I am lucky, in some ways. I have some things that some don't. And I feel…hesitant…at times…to be happy about it.
Because, really, why me? Why me and not them?
It's like farmers blaming a bad harvest on some unknown sin, or evil force.
Because there HAS to be a reason, doesn't there?
Not just a scientific one – bad crops because there was a drought. WHY was there a drought?
What did we do to deserve a drought????
Droughts happen. They aren't BECAUSE of something we did or didn't do.
But it doesn't seem to be enough.
Science is so unemotional. So matter-of-fact.
We need more.
Why me and not her?
Why her and not me?
We need THAT kind of a reason, apparently, in order for things to make sense.
And there isn't that kind of reason. Not always.
Sure, for some things.
But not others.
Not the big things.
Some things just have no THAT kind of reason.
And we don't like it.
It makes us uncomfortable.
We whisper and glance sideways and tell ourselves there must be a REASON.
A reason WE are fine and THEY are not.
WE did something RIGHT and clearly, THEY did not.
That has to be it. Right?
Because if ISN'T that, then the world is a scary place with no order and no rhyme or…reason.
"Everything happens for a reason."
So they say.
Some of them.
But then, what's the reason?
I don't think it's true anyway.
I think it's what people say because they want to believe it. They tell themselves this so that, even if it doesn't make sense right then, they believe it will make sense eventually.
Sense to whom?
And when will you know? When will that aha moment come, down the road, when you say, OH! Well if the tsunami hadn't drowned everyone and washed away entire villages, then THIS wouldn't have happened. So it's a good thing, ultimately.
We want to believe things happen, ultimately, for GOOD reasons.
We want, maybe, to believe that God is a kindly puppeteer, with a happy ending for all.
For all who deserve it.
According to some unseen (by us) script that we think we understand.
But I don't know that I believe that.
I don't think everything happens for a REASON.
So often, we think this in hindsight anyway.
Or we think it from the sidelines. It's not US this is happening to we think (with relief)…but we tell them Everything Happens For a Reason because somehow we think that's a comfort.
It's not comforting.
It's cruel and insulting.
Your pain has purpose! Has meaning! Isn't that good???
We fear what we don't know. What we don't understand.
We fear the pain others have because it is not our pain, and therefore it must be different.
We fear "different."
Which is so sad.
Because there is so much more "same" than "different," if you boil it down.
Pain should teach us compassion and sensitivity and empathy, shouldn't it?
Pain should make us understand that we need to reach out and offer comfort, rather than turn away and mutter "thank goodness it's not me" or, worse, ignore it altogether, as if it might then go away and not make us feel uncomfortable.
We don't always know how to behave.
What to do.
What to say.
Where to look.
Children stare, not to be mean, but because they are curious.
They don't understand.
And they haven't learned to be afraid of what they don't understand.
And then I dropped the last little coriander seed in the bowl with the others.
And that task was finished.