Things always seem to come full circle. We start out as helpless babies, and decades later return to the need to be cared for by others. There’s an innocence to the surrender of needing to be cared for by others at those early and late stages that we somehow lose, or at least have diminished in between.
In that in between space, helplessness and surrender seems to be replaced by the opposite: doing, helping, controlling, and mastering. As adults, that’s our role to some degree, but there’s an all-or-nothing quality to it that seems to sometimes take us away from that sense of interdependence and intimacy that is evident when we are in touch with the vulnerability of relying on and needing others.
The parallel of the cycle of vulnerability with others and our interdependence with nature is evident to me as I consider our individual, group, and environmental needs. I imagine that we share fond childhood memories of playing outside, and finding delight and comfort in feeling like a thread in the fabric of our ecosystem. I remember lying in the grass, watching the clouds float by, putting my nose into a buttercup or dandelion, climbing a willow tree and watching the stream below, and feeling held and protected by the veil of leaves that surrounded me. I don’t think I’d describe the feeling as comforting. I was a happy child and so didn’t go into nature to feel comforted. Perhaps more accurately the experience made me feel complete.
Like many others, much of my adult life has involved distancing myself from Earth, barricaded by bricks, electricity, running water, and various forms of electronic devices in what feels to me as a very all-or-nothing quality. I’ve disconnected from Earth in the same way I disconnected from needing my parents physically, financially, and even emotionally.
Though I’m not yet in my golden years (or so I assert), I’ve already circled back to my parents and the need to reconnect emotionally, especially as my parents have aged and needed my care. I have the luxury of not having to provide daily care, thanks to my sister, and so can focus on our emotional connection. This has become especially true in my relationship with Dad after Mom passed away. That void created a sense of need and willingness to rediscover our interdependence and sense of vulnerability that may not have otherwise been present without that loss.
The pending and eventual loss of my late husband Christopher opened that doorway for me with Earth. I had precious few sources of comfort during those days before and after he passed away, but the one that was always there to hold and inspire me was nature. The trees, the creek, the birds, and the insects were my ever-present companions. Just feeling their presence made me feel accompanied and supported. The structures and barriers I put around myself during my adulthood became porous and open, and nature rushed in to feel the void and make me feel complete again.
It’s been over a year since Chris has passed away and I’m still finding pockets where I feel the void of my loss. As I excavate them, I find new opportunities to fill them, with elements of my personal life but also new ways to connect with Earth. It’s harder now that it’s cold to spend as much time outside as I would like given the Florida room gets chilly even with several blankets and I’m not motivated to walk for hours on my own. I sometimes have to enjoy Earth from the warmth of the house, but I’m also planning to spend more time in the soil and with the plants this spring as I learn to garden. I’m not going to just spend more time with Earth, but I’m going to actively do things with her and deepen the intimacy of our bond. Just like any other relationship, our relationship with Earth requires that we be present when together, and it’s even better if we can invest time and energy being with her in a way that benefits us both.
I truly don’t know if it matters one whit to Earth, whether I’m being present with her or planting things. I’m unlikely to ever come up with unequivocal evidence to support or refute the belief that I feel viscerally: that the quality of my connection matters to her. It’s somewhat moot, because in the end, spending quality time with Mother Nature makes me feel whole and part of something bigger than myself. My daily worries sometimes threaten to make me feel like disaster is imminent, and being with nature reminds me that there is no disaster so big that I can’t return to her, feel like I belong, and made whole once again.
Written by Dr. Susanna Wu-Pong Calvert