Friday, April 12, 2013

The Peaceful South

I have long searched for peace. I have searched in books, in nature, in church, in meditation, in sleep, in seeking advice from various mentors and pastors and gurus and friends and family and anybody else that would offer a suggestion. So I wondered when in my life have I actually found some peace? My earliest peaceful memory is high up in a pecan tree… I grew up on a farm in South Georgia. We were mainly beef farmers, but we also grew corn and soybeans – and depending on the year and which relative’s farm, sometimes cotton, tobacco, wheat, hay, pigs, chickens, goats…pretty much whatever fancied whichever farmer that year, and almost my entire family – both sides – were involved in farming somehow. Always, though, we had pecan groves. They weren’t as lucrative as the beef cattle, but those same cattle could pasture in between the trees, so it was a two-for-one. When the pecans didn’t sell well, it wasn’t the end of the world because the cattle were well taken care of and sure to bring in some income. When the pecan prices were up, that was a blessed bonus we all appreciated. For a brief time, we even boxed and shipped our own pecans from the small laundry room of our home. I can still remember all those labels – back when a label-maker was a novelty and computers hadn’t yet come to rule the world.
Anyway, I must have been 10 years old or so, and it was spring. Springtime in the South is one of God’s most gorgeous gifts – whether it’s magnolia blooms, dogwoods or cherry blossoms – or the continual smell of sweet Georgia clay and freshly cut grass. It was a great time to be outside. The mosquitoes hadn’t arrived and there was nothing to watch since football was over, baseball was just starting, and none of us cared about the NBA. I once heard someone say that children these days have too many toys, too many distractions, too many electronics, and that there was only one thing he had to play with growing up: OUTSIDE. That’s where we played growing up – OUTSIDE. Don’t get me wrong, we certainly had plenty to play with and were blessed with toys and bikes; a trampoline and our Granddaddy’s pool. Nonetheless, most of our time was definitely spent outside.
One late Spring day – it must’ve been almost summer – I had decided to climb the pecan tree in the front yard to get into the breeze and under the shelter of the leaves. I was up in that tree for hours. Sometimes my siblings would look for me, but, you know, the easy place to hide is Up. Most folks don’t look up – certainly not when searching for something or someone. Everyone looks down, in and under…more on that later…
Anyway…I had a two-by-four with me. We weren’t allowed to build tree houses because it might damage the pecan trees and decrease production. So…I would take short two-by-fours up the tree with me and rig them in the crooks of the limbs making a “gentle” platform, a temporary tree fort, if you will – at least for the time I was up there. With two-by-four in hand, I shinnied up that tree (no small feat for a pecan tree without low limbs or easy places to grasp – it really was half jump, half shinny), and found a good crook between two sturdy branches. Then, I set up my two-by-four so that I could sit down comfortably but also lean back against one of the limbs. And that’s it. I didn’t do anything else. I didn’t play games or try and lure my unsuspecting siblings into some sort of ambush. I just sat there. Sometimes I watched the trucks on the highway; sometimes I watched the tractors in the field across the road. I listened to animal noises that I would have normally tuned out. I felt the breeze as it blew through the trees and thus on and around me – but I actually noticed it this time.
Mostly, I sat in awe of the change in perspective. Whether lying flat on your back or rising high in the sky, everything changes. The new angles with which I viewed my own childhood home, my brother, my sister, our farm… I was mesmerized. And in that moment, all was well. I was ok. I was safe. I had a new view, a new gratitude, a new perspective.
And I was alone.
I don’t know why that seemed peaceful to me, but it did. I relished that separation from the chaos, the hurry.
Don’t get me wrong – I was always an active kid – running and swimming and playing and competing. And yet, this ability, this privilege to just sit – to be still – was such a peaceful blessing. I longed for it. I long for it still. I think I have been looking for that two-by-four and tree all the years of my adult life. There is a right-ness to separating from the noise of this world and just being. It wasn’t meditation – at least not in the conventional sense. Really, it was just being. I heard all the sounds of nature, saw the activity on the highway, and watched the work in the field. I knew where my brother and sister were playing, and I knew when Mama poked her head outside to confirm we were all still within our proper radius. So it wasn’t a deep breathing, tune out the world kind of peace. It was a be-still, be-quiet, and be-fully-in-this-place moment.
That’s hard to find today, but I still search for it all the time…

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