Pitting Cherries and Not Another Podcast

Last Thursday, a week ago, I bought a cherry pitter. Having no reason to suspect that cherries might be on sale this week (but of course they would be, it's nearly August), I find myself more prepared for the laborious task of pitting six pounds of the burgundy orbs.

Friends laugh at me for the lack of gadgets in our home, but if I had to go another season using a cheap paring knife, my fingernail, and a whole afternoon to pit cherries just so we can have cherry pie in January...well, that wasn't going to happen. It's a small tool, not electric, not even the size of a garlic press or a can opener. I've already pitted a pound and it took me a quarter of the time. But it still took time. "Just buy a can of cherry filling," you might say, "or at the very worst, a bag of frozen cherries. There's souls to be saved, work that needs to be done, and you're standing there pitting cherries?"

Yes. Yes I am. 

Nate and I took the long way home from dinner on Tuesday night, through the bit of countryside still mostly untouched by the creeping metroplex of Dallas and Fort Worth. I forget what the subject was exactly, but he lamented the amount of time people have these days. Everything is mechanized and technologized and passive income is all the rage and it leaves so much more time for folks to spend their days reading theology or politics and commenting on every single issue whether they have suffered or worked or lived much at all. Everyone considers themselves an expert because they read about it in a book or a blog or listened to a podcast where people purported to be experts because they read about it in a book or a blog or they, too, are podcast listeners. We are a society of commentators, each one of us abridging, abutting, amending, or simply adding our own two cents to every issue under the sun. 

That's why I've taken so long to buy a cherry pitter. 

I need my hands to be busy with real work—not just mind work. Mind work is good work too, I won't argue that, and technological advances are things of beauty (the attributes of God as creator at work), but when everything exists to make our lives easier, faster, more automated, and less work, well, what else is there to do but commentate? We become merely observers of life and not partakers in it. 

Whenever I feel a tinge of shame creeping in because I eschew Fast and New and Quick and its accompanying accusation that while I stand there pitting cherries for four hours, there's gospel work I could be doing instead, I want to remember that pitting cherries is gospel work. It might not be the kind we raise support for or throw neighborhood parties for or write pamphlets for or send our kids overseas for, but it is still producing in me (and, I'd argue, in those who partake January's cherry pie at our table) something good. It is keeping me away from the commentary, the blurring lines of experts, the pundits, armchair preachers, and seminarians who think because they know how to pronounce Barth and have read the entirety of City of God, they know anything about real life. 

If you hear a note of sadness (or its stinging cousin disgust), it's very real. I am saddened by how much everyone is an expert in their field, but how little they know of real work in real fields. "Stay in your lane," is the most lamentable phrase to enter Christianity. God has made us infinitely complex and we squeeze all of that complexity into one thing and call it a calling. But we need to feel the soil in our fingers and the pop of a cherry being pitted and to learn how to make a proper bed and the frustration of a weed that overtakes our garden and the stinging loss of life and the relief that comes from learning something works not because we read about it but because we tried it and failed miserably—or, glory be, succeeded. We need the whole gamut of work and rest and the exercise of our mind that comes from learning new laborious skills with our hands, and the exercise of our bodies that comes not from getting in a run, but waking early and feeling its limitations, its mutations, and its inability to be perfected. 

I hope my disgust moves along quickly and is replaced by wisdom, but I am weary of the commentary and I hope, I hope, I hope you are too. I hope you turn off, unsubscribe, stop buying books, turn down the volume, and listen instead to the dandelion men, the poets, the sages, the ones who have suffered full lives and have earned the right to commentate on what they have seen and known. I hope you will live an examined life of your own, and not just spend it examining the lives of others.

I hope you'll buy a cherry pitter too, just for the act of slowing, stopping, and feeling the ripe, red flesh in your fingers for a few hours, the juice that pools on your raw pine tabletop. I hope, for a minute, you'll remember you are dust and your thumb will get a cramp and your fingers will be stained and January will feel a long way off. I hope as you crack these red orbs, you're reminded of how a few weeks ago your body was cracked open and blood was shed, and how a few millennia ago your Savior's body was too. I hope you run out of time and don't have enough to spend one blessed moment pontificating on your silly blog about how much time people have these days. If you don't, it's okay. I'm grateful I mostly did. 

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*Just to be clear: you don't have to pit your own cherries: perhaps you're raising little ones, or managing a garden of your own, or engaged in some other act that takes time and doesn't result in much praise or notice or a strong, consistent feeling of accomplishment. This is what I'm talking about. Abstain from the glut of information and commentary on it and just, you know, do something.

God in What is Not Said

His is an unassuming wit, the gentle sort that surprises you, and only after you have known him long enough. I am not amused by puns or foolish antics, but by dry wit, the understated kind, the kind my husband has. He has always made me laugh and I have always loved this about him.

Laughter, though, does not echo in these hospital halls or if it does, it is strange and out of place—like our pregnancy this time. “Ectopic pregnancy literally means Out of Place,” my husband reads from the Internet and later writes a poem about the out of placeness we feel in this experience of intermittent infertility followed by miscarriage after miscarriage and now, this. We hold our collective breath for nearly a week in the hospital while I continue to bleed, bent in pain, and we continue to pray. And then I am wheeled into surgery and we lose the baby before we lose me.

I don’t laugh for a month. Nate doesn’t even try to make me. The hours pass slow and monotonous, like the poet said, “a punctual rape of every blessed day.” Even when I am well enough to leave our bed, I don’t want to. Even when the scars don’t pull with every movement, I feel them still and the emptiness they betray. We're not the sort to pretend things are fine when they're not. We're not afraid of mourning, of being sad. We aren't going to pretend we have jubilant and full hearts when the truth is we've felt emptied of joy, and instead brim over with emotions that seem out of place and our control. There's no shame in our grief and we feel no shame for it. We're not in some sort of rush to sweep the bad things away and spring clean sadness from our hearts. Sadness has its purpose too.

One night a month after, Nate and I talk before bed as we often do, turned toward one another, and a surprising laughter comes from within me. He makes me laugh for an hour or more and then again when we turn out the lights and face away from each other.

Someone asked me a question recently: "What's comforts you in infertility and pregnancy loss?" I answered the Psalms. They have been the best comfort to me in the past few years. But there is poetry too, and not of the biblical sort, that has comforted too. I read a poem by Mary Oliver when we were in the hospital and it lingers still with comfort.

Poetry says what cannot be said in prose. And sometimes it says what cannot be said at all or sometimes what should not.  Good poetry leaves much to the imagination and even more to interpretation. Its purpose is not to force the reader into a well-worn pathway, but to surprise instead with inflection, wonder, and—perhaps—emptiness. What is not said is almost more important than what is.

Grief is like that, for me at least. God is at work in what is not said more than what is. He is found in spaces, emptiness, quiet pauses and plots and pieces. He says without saying, "Notice me in this thing or this sight or this void? See me in the ways I preserve and protect and keep?" He is almost an afterthought in many ways. He is a surprise.

The best comfort to me in grief has been the Psalms, yes, but also poetry, and also surprising laughter, filling up from inside and pouring over. The sort that makes my stomach hurt, the kind that makes my eyes water, the kind that makes me stop and notice, for one minute, when my hands feel limp and lifeless, that all things are still held in his.

Heavy, by Mary Oliver

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
had his hand in this,

as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel,
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it -
books, bricks, grief -
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled 
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love to which there is no reply?

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