Gleaning Scraps of Wisdom

Posted by Laura Cohn on

My husband thinks I am having an affair because my phone dings all night long with incoming texts. He sleeps mostly like a baby, but I am up at all hours responding to these overseas connections, careful not to wake him. Halfway around the globe, during their daylight hours, my Indonesian contacts text me photos of the various crafts for me to buy, as if they were beautiful little treasures seeping into my dreams. Since we had to reimagine our in-person business, From Bali to Bala, last year into an online market, I am thrilled to have these middle of the night text-trysts with my friends and artists across the globe. For the first time in 23 years, I am not able to travel “home” to do my buying in person, so, these are an essential step to keep the flow of crafts From Bali to Us going while infusing their impoverished pandemic economy with a little bit of our dollars. We successfully made the pivot this year, for me and as a species: good for us. But now, as we fully emerge into the new dawn, I don’t want to waste this year of growth from underneath our masks - it is essential that we glean scraps of wisdom from this trying time.

To glean, a verb defined as to gather or collect in a gradual way; to search carefully for something; to learn or ascertain; and to gather grain or other material that is left after the main crop has been harvested. With this in mind, I looked to some of the best gleaners I know, the ducks in Bali. A duck wrangler, much like the pied piper with a long staff, ushers the flock into the newly shorn fields with stubs of rice stalks sticking up, bluntly cut and surrounded by a bounty of rice grains sprinkled on the earth waiting to be gleaned. The ducks show up at the final stage of the rice harvest, cheap labor and essential workers. They quack and chortle in chorus as they busily peck in the soil, filling their bellies with kernels of dried rice, unwanted leavings. Simultaneously while busy with work, they defecate in the fields, which in turn becomes an important element of the compost tilled into the soil for the next years rice crop. And so, each cycle comes round.

To me, these similarities are too close to be missed, and the gleanings too important to pass by, scraps of insights harvested from the pandemic. In looking back on this year, I reread what I wrote to myself last April, envisioning a time allowing for reflection, re-centering, and resetting. The purple ink is what I submitted in last year’s musings, with current gleanings in black.

- Find some small ways to make friends with the unknown: the ebb and flow of this surreal time seem inconstant flux, hour by hour. This new world implores me to practice, beyond words, a more fluid way of being.  This constant teaching was with us all year, reminding me to remain in the present as best I could. The reality was a constantly changing scenario, so I had to seek my own sense of stability. We know now, more than ever, that the future is very tenuous, so we have to strengthen our core selves and remain open. We had no idea what was coming! Who would have envisioned the losses encumbered by so many?

- What we cannot control, try to release. What we can control, take responsibility for.  Seems simple, but this one thing was reinforced again and again. We may not be able to control the situation, but we can choose to control how we respond to it.  Such a year filled with learning to let go, letting go, letting flow, let flow, flow.  

- Try to be comfortable with yourself, and love yourself a bit more, whether you’re with others or alone.  Never have most of us spent so much alone time. I personally loved it, relished it, and never felt lonely (yes, I lived with my family, so I was rarely really alone alone). I walked more in the woods, keeping close company with Mother Nature. Now I must remember that solace, and as I re-enter the world, to keep this balance of quiet independence at play while reconnecting with my vast community of friends.

- Call someone you know who is in isolation or alone at home. Reach out.  Reaching outside of ourselves to help others, to make connections, isn’t easy when we are our busy selves running to and fro all the time. This year gave us ample opportunities to develop more empathy for others, growing our hearts in many ways.

- Trust that we learn lessons, both small and large, from this crisis, and we absorb these on a personal, spiritual, and political level.  Yes, on small scale (lots of new recipes) and large scale (reinventing my business) lessons. Yes, on spiritual ones as well (more patience with myself and others). Yes, on political ones (we got Trump voted out of office)!

- Write down wisdom that resonates during this time so that when we do, in fact, surface on the other side, we can draw on it to become better individuals and citizens, both within and together.  I don’t think any of us way back in March of 2020 had any idea at all what the other side of this would look like. I started out journaling in the very beginning, but that lasted only a few months. When I rewind the months into last fall and winter, I remember only vaguely the anxiety and disbelief at how the world was mismanaging the chaos all around. I followed the news very closely, but to combat the insanity, I purposely crafted a quiet and calmness in my home and head space. Primarily I focused on what I could control, and took a deep dive into reimagining my business to continue to support the Indonesians I have worked with for decades. But there is an amnesia that clouds my memory now, and like childbirth, I cannot remember how painful it really was. Partially because we lived in a bubble and were fairly fortunate on many levels, our family suffered only one immediate loss, that of our very old and very wonderful dog member of our family, Kaely. Yet we grieved, and through her death I resonated with others who lost loved ones a little bit more.

For me, to leave the lessons on the floor or behind us as we move back to the new normal seems utterly wasteful. Instead, let us embrace the gleanings of the pandemic as nutrients. As we emerge from our homes with small and large, personal and political lessons, they will help fertilize us for the next wave of whatever life brings. And who really knows what that is? I do know for sure that the future will bring more texts from my beloved Indonesia in the middle of the night. Just don’t tell my husband.

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