Earthquakes and a White Picket Fence

Earthquakes and a White Picket Fence

March 17th, 2011 (No Comments)

How are you dealing with the emerging story of horror from Japan? First we hear of the shattering earthquake, then the devastating tsunami, now the lethal radiation. I have to force myself to watch the news.  To get beyond the horrific facts and really enter those images makes my heart melt in agony and a certain traumatic numbness haunts me for hours. Many of you have said the same thing as we talked about it these last days. It pushes all the boundaries of our belief and understanding. How impossible to carry the weight of all the happenings that we witness on our globe and yet, not to, is not an option for us as global-citizens. Have you noticed how you are managing this crisis – inside and out?

Our life still has to move on. Maybe we are moving a little more slowly into the future. Maybe we switch everything off inside when the TV goes off.  Maybe if we are thoughtful, we hug someone a little closer or we say a prayer of thanks for fresh water and pure air.  Maybe we just keep on worriedly groping in the dark, wondering when the next nightmare scenario will explode closer to home.

For me – my solace is often in the garden. Spring time has arrived in Pennsylvania.  After a winter of serious weather, all I want to do is get outside and clean up the debris from wind storms, snow storms and five months of neglect. It feels good to tidy up the world, to clean my garden is often the quintessential therapy for body and soul. Somehow my attention this year has been averted into a project of building a non-essential white picket fence – it has no functional use other than to look pretty and hold up two bird houses. This weekend, in the midst of our outpoured energy, my husband and I kept talking about Japan. As we dug and hauled stones out of the ground, we kept stopping and looking at each other remarking at how inconsequential our actual project was on the world scene, and yet it was clear to us that this what we were meant to do that Saturday.

The irony of the juxtaposition of the cataclysmic global events and our American white picket fence seemed irreconcilable – if not entirely ludicrous. But somehow building this symbolic structure at this time in our lives was a ritual of faith. A ritual marking the way we as humans make meaning by building fences, enclosures, tidying up our world into neat little segments of   confined order.  Meanwhile, Nature in one breath moves an island by eight feet.  Waves destroy the trim coastline beauty, and the sudden irresponsible wildness of All that is, roars in our face.

Each shovel of dirt, rip of the saw and stroke of the paintbrush felt like an honoring of the value of good work in the midst of disaster. As I painted, I prayed for those who had nothing left to paint. In creating this little island of beauty we build what Barbara Brown Taylor calls “An Altar in This World”.  This was worship, this was prayer.  We honor the value of human life; our capacity to be empowered by deep Love to create beauty and unearth communal goodness. In the huge gap inside our beings that was attempting to both contain the disaster in Japan and also value this land we have been given – we built a white picket fence.

We worked until we could no longer see what we were doing, and rather than drill a screw into his fingers, Uli called it a day.  In cleaning up the site later, I realized I had quite a collection of rocks that had been uncovered.  I was about to wheel them away for another project when I knew what was calling to be made.

Yesterday, beside the picket fence, I built a permanent stone sculpture for the people of Japan.  Dozens of rock shards pointing in jumbled disarray, their jagged faces looking upward but each one touching another, holding together and making meaning out of their confused and broken state.  Rocks, people – built together in a monument to life.  An altar of hope and faith that life goes on – no matter what happens. Each moment, each day, each action made in joy, love and peace.  Life is here to live abundantly. It is all we have.


Carol Kortsch

March 16, 2011


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