Thursday, April 15, 2021

Chop Wood Carry Water by Feliz Piez

“My daily activities are not unusual,I’m just naturally in harmony with them.
Grasping nothing, discarding nothing.
In every place there’s no hindrance, no conflict.
My supernatural power and marvelous activity:
Drawing water and chopping wood.”
Laymen Pang,
(740-808 AD)

Ben was a fifteen-year-old Navajo whose troubles in school led him to be in my group on the Reservation in Shiprock, New Mexico. He sat in the back of the room with his head on his desk—he was not sleeping, he was listening, as I soon discovered.
I was telling a story—a story I made up from the title of a self-help book I found at a thrift store— Chop Wood, Carry Water by Rex Weyler.

The story follows:

A man owned a great farm, and he had two sons. One day he called the sons into his room and told them he was going to die. The younger son cried and moaned and hung on to his father. The older son stood silent for a moment then spoke.
“I have work to do,” he said and left the room.
Over the next year, the younger son did not leave his father’s side. He prodded his father to go riding and fishing with him.
“I will miss you Father. I want to spend time with you before you leave me.”
One day they were fishing. The younger son saw the older son carrying water from the well to the house.
“Put the water down. Come join us. Father will not be with us long and we will miss him.”
The older son smiled, nodded, and continued carrying the water to the house.
The younger son noticed his father’s fishing tackle. He had seen his father use that special fishing rod since he was a young boy.
“That is a beautiful fly rod and reel you have, Father.”
“It belonged to my father and his father as well,” said his father.
Another day, in the late fall, the younger son and his father were riding in the forest when they saw the older son hauling wood on the trail to the house.
“Set the wood aside and join us. We will miss our father when he is gone. Come ride horses with us,” said the younger son.
The older son smiled, nodded, and continued hauling the wood to the house.
The younger son noticed the father’s saddle.
“That is a beautiful saddle, Father,” said the younger son.
“It belonged to my father and his father as well,” said his father.
A year passed and one evening the father called the two sons into his room again.
“I am going to die tonight,” said the father.
“I have had so much enjoyment with you this year, Father, please don’t die,” said the younger son.
The older son stood silent.
The father took the younger son by the hand and said.
“You are a good son. You have spent your whole year with me fishing and riding. For you I leave my fishing gear and my saddle.”
The father then sat up and looked at the older son.
“When it was cold in the winter you chopped wood to keep us warm. When it was hot and dry in the summer, you carried water from the well so we would not be thirsty. For you I leave the farm, and the land, and my fortune.”
I stood silent in front of the room for a moment.
“What does that story mean?” I said to the group. I had no preconceived notion. I had just made the story up. There was a long silence.
Ben raised his head.
“It means when you can’t do what you want to do, you do what you have to do,” he said.
His words stuck with me and I was not able to shake them. I had heard the phrase “Chop wood, carry water.” before and seen writings on it for years in spiritual circles I had engaged in.
To me it meant life can be simply lived. We can do without everything we think we must possess—things, position, ideas, people.
Ben gave me a new meaning. He helped me understand how to live in difficult and often hopeless situations—how to overcome adversity. “When you can’t do what you want to do, you do what you have to do.”
In this trying time of disease, hunger, massive fires on the west coast, storms rushing in from the Gulf one after the other—and a political system that appears to be overrun by fascism in our free and open Democracy—we feel powerless.
We want to change what is happening, so we write and rant and try to convince those around us, but nothing changes. People are entrenched in their beliefs right now, it is their security blanket.
This author is a created character, whose purpose was to help this writer resolve decades of guilt and regret. He is helping, but now I am—and we are—faced with this new world. Nothing is safe, nothing secure, tomorrow is not filled with hope, but fear. We are struggling to find our way.
As for me, I am doing what I have to do. I am gathering my resources, ridding myself of encumbrances, possessions I don’t need. I am taking care of those dearest to me. I am reaching out to family, pulling them in, securing those ties. I am looking at local needs—my neighbor, my community—there is pain and loss here, hunger and homelessness. I am removing my critical spirit and replacing it with the spirit of compassion, even for those who are blind or asleep to what is happening.
I can’t do what I want to do, live the normal life anymore—feeling safe and secure in this world, but I can live without the oppression of fear. I can live this day with hope that this too shall pass. This is all I can do.

© Feliz Piez

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