On the far side of my backyard, I’ve had a trench dug. It’s about 15-20 feet long and roughly a foot wide and about 10 inches deep. I’ve filled the bottom with small stones and gravel from another part of my yard, and, I’ve done so to help water drain more effectively from that section of yard. So far, it seems to be working.
I knew that, along the section of yard where the trench now is, there were a few 12-inch wide, 2-inches deep paver stones–each of them slightly sunken into the yard after many years of snow and rain and settling and neglect. I’d planned for weeks to dig them up after the trench was done.
Late last Friday afternoon, my brain fried from a long week and my heart sore from…well, the whole damn world…I donned yard work attire, grabbed a shovel, and set out to dig up those stones. The ground was still damp from a few days of rain so it gave easily, the only upset coming from big fat earthworms furiously digging deep into the dirt as I uncovered them. Still, even with soft(ish) earth, it wasn’t easy, and it didn’t take me long to break a solid sweat.
One by one, I dug at their edges and then pried them out, lining them up along the edge of the trench, forming a sort of sidewalk alongside it. To my (at first) delight, there were more than a few, and I managed to edge the trench with two twin rows of stones.
I leaned on the shovel, satisfied, and smiled. Exactly what I’d planned.
I thought I was done.
I was wrong.
As I laid the (I thought) last stone down, I heard the unmistakeable “clink” of stone against stone. Confused, I lifted the stone back up, confirming there was only patchy grass underneath. So I laid it back down.
And again, “Clink!”
A horrible sensation began a slow curl through my insides, and I slowly picked up the shovel again and tapped its point against the grass–hard.
I tapped it again, and again, until I felt the edge of something hard and unforgiving under the earth. Another stone edge, long hidden beneath at least an inch or two of turf.
Sighing, I pried it out.
And then found another. And another.
Thirty-nine (Thirty! Nine!) paver stones later, I stood, pouring sweat, exhausted, my glutes on fire and my arms like jelly. I was half completely annoyed. Half fiercely proud.
We got some hidden stones in our lives.
In the deep recesses of our hearts where we harbor the things that have hurt us the most, the memories of betrayal and loss, the difficult things that we aren’t quite sure what to do with, so we just shove them down, and let grass grow over them until we can’t see them anymore, can’t even feel them unless we try.
We got some hidden stones in our communities.
The half-truths and myths that tell only a piece of the story. The lines drawn between us and them. The discrepancies in educational opportunities between this school and that school, even though they are in the same damn district. The pain of long-ago battles never really dealt with, the ache of long ago traumas never really healed. It’s all a giant, unwieldy, hurting mess, and we’ve no idea how to untangle so many years of treating one another like complete shit and so we just ignore it and hope it’ll go away, meanwhile, it all just sinks deeper into the very fabric of our life together, unseen, but affecting the entire landscape of who we are and how we live.
And maybe we find the courage, the wherewithal, to deal with a few of these hidden stones–only one leads to another. And another. And we get tired. And it hurts. And we’ve no clue what to do with all we’re unearthing. Because it just seems like too much. Too much to face. Too much to fix. Too much to ever make right again.
We got some hidden stones.
I’ve no idea how long those stones have been sunk down in my yard. I know the house itself was built in the mid-1990’s. I know it’s had more than one owner. The one before me lived here for a while, but, near as I can tell, had long since lost capacity or energy or resource to keep up the outside. And I suspect, though I don’t know enough about landscaping to know for sure, that the stones were affecting the pull and direction of everything under the surface.
How could they not?
How could they not disrupt the earth, the creatures it holds, the way it stretches across and under and around trees and fence posts and patios and the house itself? How could they not push against roots? How could they not change the way the ground absorbs water and nutrients?
We are at a crossroads in our country. Part of it all things COVID, to be sure (for better or for worse, and whatever your take on it all is, the virus has changed us). But part of it the hidden stones of economic injustice and power-hungry politicians and false narratives of what happened and when and our hellbent insistence on hating all things other.
Good, sweet baby Jesus how we love to “other” those we do not understand or like or agree with.
Good. Sweet. Baby. Jesus.
We’ve got to dig this shit up, y’all. Stone by stone. Even when it hurts. Even when we’re screaming from the very depths of our beings that we’re too tired and too raw and it’s never going to matter anyway because there are always more stones to be found. Even then. We have to keep tapping our shovels for what else might be under the surface, naked to our eyes, but affecting everything about us.
It’s the only way.
I took my time with those stones. Almost two hours to dig up all 39. I stopped for water. A snack. I listened to some good music. I played with our 7-month old boxer/terrier mix puppy. I even took a phone call from my pastor and shared with him some of my heart these days as I dug.
Which is to say that hard work takes some care–for ourselves and for one another. And I think maybe if we started there–with care for ourselves and one another–we might find a way forward.
Not an easy one necessarily. But one that makes a difference. One that brings hope.
One that points us toward something so much better, and more like what God created us for in the first place.