“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” 

-Martin Luther

The rub of it is this: we know that nothing lasts. Our lives here are transient, fleeting. Our sun will expand. Our human nature evolves slowly. There are many reasons why we should not bother to plant our trees, and if we buy into those reasons, the only logical outcome is to become a cynical nihilist. Jaded. Out to critique. Feeling and giving no compassion to anyone, anywhere.

I could see that bleak horizon in my early 20s, pressed up close to human nature in my dorms and co-ops, taking university philosophy classes and biology classes, history classes and of course English classes. We are heavy with knowledge in college, until we figure out with maturity (it is to be hoped) how to sort that knowledge. Where do we put it? How do we use it? For good or for ill?

Do we become a voice that seeks to uplift? Or do we use knowledge to tear down? How do we put our knowledge in the proper perspective? How do we ensure that we make room for all else that life will teach us?

We have (some) choices to make about how to use and direct our energy. Snarky? Edifying? We have about 100 years to wield that energy semi-directly. Then we’re done, and we leave only ripples behind us when we go. What ripples are we leaving? We can’t always know, but we can try to pull them along for a moment.

And so, one day we’re standing in our dorm room looking out at the trees and bicyclists below, pondering our future. We have been crying off and on in our junior year, not feeling like we’re achieving success as defined by all the shallow things that tend to define it. We put pressure on ourselves like no one knows we do. We know we won’t be famous. We’re quieter and more humble in our ambitions than that, we’ve realized. We will be lucky if we write something truly capable one day—and we have no real ideas. We have spent three years and all our lives wondering how to be a “good” person and how to do the most good. We have seen our ideals challenged until they are black and blue (no, the co-ops teach us, utopias in which everyone thinks about each other, loves, and works for the mutual good of everyone else probably are not truly possible).

And at that moment we realize: we need to teach. To educate. To go toward the Family, and work from the inside  outward. We start our ripples where we know. We can be a decent person in any town, in any place…the point is to start with Love. We choose, at that moment, to live looking for the good in everyone while keeping our own flaws in the front of our mind. We choose to use our knowledge well: to know how far we ourselves are from perfection, and to celebrate humbly the quiet moments, the beauty in the natural world around us, and all that is glorious in a species that has no choice but to continue to learn and to better itself.

Life had more to teach me in my later twenties, and the creed by which I live would be further refined through fire, but it is strong. Start with Family, seek Love, look for the Good. Or something like that.

Alice Walker wrote it better in The Color Purple: “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”

I’m not usually an expletive person, but this works. Sorry for my other readers who aren’t expletive people. For my agnostic or atheistic family and friends, don’t be distracted by the reference to God in this either. Just think about what she’s really saying…

The most beautiful part of life, I think, is that we have a chance every day to make and to affect meaning. We can make meaning in everything we do. Our narrative is ours. Well, partly. What words will we choose to write it? What deliberate words will we put out into the world to make ripples? How will we use our body to generate language? How do we connect to separate times together? What will we choose for symbolism? What actions become literary devices? Yes, I really think about this. Crazy.

Today was my Uncle Eric’s birthday. He’s my Eric’s namesake. The circumstances of his death are the things I sometimes cry about when I am holding my children and singing. No, I don’t always cry when I am singing to them, just occasionally when I’m really thinking about what Life is. How happiness and pain, loyalty and loneliness, and memories and missed opportunities are so entwined.

Both of my children have family namesakes. Katie June is named after her great-grandmother June (Julia) Mitchell (and also shares her first name with her great-great grandmother on the Yoder side).

Name Day is an old world tradition celebrating the birthday of the saint after whom you were named. In our family, we named our children after family members and we celebrate our own version of Name Day. There is a special cake associate with Name Day, a gugelhupf, or Name Day cake. We made our gugelhupf yesterday to honor Eric’s namesake’s birthday today:

 

We spent the day with Nana, celebrating her son and missing him:

 

 

Katie also had her first soccer game early this morning. Go, Green Rockets! I love my hometown and I love raising my children here, for many reasons: chief among those reasons is that we are able to use a sense of place to build continuity in their shared family history. Where Katie played soccer today I have played soccer and practiced soccer. The scent of the autumn grass at her evening practice on those fields on Wednesday was the same as the scent years ago when I played with my teammates and friends. Her Uncle David also practiced and played on those fields. History. Meaning. Shared spaces. Tradition. Full-circle.

 

Katie is on the left in mid-run (in the picture above).

 

My parents are awesome grandparents. They both came to the early game and helped cheer Katie on. My mom dressed in green, too. Love it.

 

 

One of our coaches, at the end of the game. The game was sweet and hilarious at parts, since they all clump up around the ball at that age. But it is so much about just staying super positive and giving them a love for the game. And maybe they will learn a thing or two about soccer, too. Watching, though? I had the biggest desire to put on my cleats again and play. I loved soccer. I know there are adult leagues…hmmm…

And finally, here is a picture from Monday’s Labor Day party with the Matics-Lambert-Horne-Booth clan:

This is my beautiful cousin Beth and her new daughter Chelsea. Chelsea took her first swim on Monday, and we all flocked around to watch. That’s one of the many traits I love about my family and extended family: we’re enthusiastic for each other. There is a sense that one person’s joy is joy for everyone. We love to see ourselves increasing, too, as we add more family members.

Family love is my apple tree.

 

 

 

 

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