Lessons of the Grape Vine

When we bought our property, we inherited Concord grape vines.  Since Mother Nature decided to have a couple "up" days (of her seemingly unstable displays of behavior lately) and let the sun shine recently, I decided to tackle the vines.

I don't really know what I'm supposed to do with them, but as I sat there looking at them, I decided to just jump in.  On the outside, they were a tangled web of branches, a mess really. They haven't yet budded or blossomed and are somewhat unsightly.  

I decided to start with the obviously withered and desiccated branches, knowing that by clipping those away, more energy can be given to the younger branches.  

I saw that the grapes were being interfered with by a dogwood bush. Though these branches are red, attractive and quite pretty, they interfere with the growth of the grape vines. When they leaf out they cover and block the life giving energy the vines require.  These had to be clipped away.

I clipped away slowly, looking at each vine, choosing where to nip it.  Some of the branches were extremely long.  The extremely over-extended branches were snipped with the thought that they were so far removed from their strong foundation that they were weak and lost growing upwards into a nearby pine tree.  

The bases of all these vines are old, weathered and thick.  They are strong main stalks that all the subsequent generations of vines have sprouted.   Their roots run deep, and though they are quite tattered, they stubbornly remain.

We have lived here long enough that I have seen these vines bear fruit several seasons. Some years they have born hideous amounts of grapes, other years the harvest is sparse.  The vines productivity is usually affected by things out of their control like wind or birds and deer pecking away at the fruit.

As I thinned and clipped, I realized these vines were a lot like life.  We are all a tangled mess at times.  Sometimes the best way to tackle an issue is to just jump in.   We may or may not have blossomed yet.   We have the life sucked from us by those relationships that are desiccated and dead.

We all possess productivity and purpose but can get lost in a tangle of our own life's vines.  We get distracted by the pretty, easy and attractive things that can pull us away and block us from that which gives us energy.  We become over-extended by distractions, obligations, tasks and the need to be connected at all times.  We grow thinner and weaker, until we look down from 20 feet up a pine tree to the foundation that lies far away from us.  

Eventually we may find ourselves looking at our bases... those relationships that have weathered us and the storms we have brought.  The family members and friends that have tolerated our pecking, as the vines have withstood the irksome birds noshing on ripe fruit.  They have stood stubborn and strong, supporting  and sustaining us.  

And it just remains to be seen how we will bud and blossom and what will the fruit resemble that we will bear?  

Life exists in the Chaos

Many moons ago, in a previous life that allowed me to use my big girl words and required a daily shower, I was a Critical Care Nurse.  I worked in a 24 bed ICU with the best co-workers possible.  At a mere 23 years old, I was thrust into an environment that forced me to face mortality whether I wanted to or not.  It was a process that wasn't even on the radar of most people I knew who were my age.  We were still at the age of invincibility, teetering on the cusp of  "life" finally beginning after so many years of schooling and preparing.  We could almost taste "life" as it was finally going to happen.

Probably around a year into my circadian rhythm destroying career, I sat on my close friend's deck people watching the patrons of the nearby Dairy Queen on a beautiful summer evening.  As we sipped our micro-brews, because we were now employed career women who could afford better than Keystone or Grainbelt, I said "So this is it, huh?" She asked "Is what it?" I replied, "This is life? This is what we couldn't wait to get through high school, and then college, and then to be employed with a real job for?  Wow. This. Sucks."  We laughed and for me, it is one of those epiphanic moments that changed me.  All I had experienced in that past year had culminated in that moment.  Life wasn't just around the corner, waiting until your check list is completed. Life is everywhere, all around you at every moment.

The Critical Care Unit was not an emotionally easy place to work. There were many days I went home and cried. Cried because life did not seem fair, cried out of frustration, cried because human nature had disappointed me, cried because I was disappointed in myself.  However, those 24 beds and the patients that occupied them gave me gifts that I will never be able to repay.  As much as I would have liked to have avoided the questions that arose from their stories, their persistance in my head was unrelenting. "What if you were gone tomorrow?" "What would you do differently if you found out you had a brain tumor?"  "Do those you love, know you love them?"  The questions go on and on. generated from so many different stories. A dad who went to work like normal, who would never go home due to a freak accident.  A teenager, just being a teen: gone.  An elderly man whose family just couldn't cope with making health care decisions, and so we watched his soul go, months before his body did.  A young woman, a careless car accident, and the only thing that made sense would be others getting life from her organs.  A young man who defied all the rules, who was by all practical purposes was supposed to die, and we watched him walk out of the unit. He got a second chance.

Really the stories go on and on, each one leaving a little brush stroke on my life.  I went into this job thinking I knew where my life would take me and how I would live it.  After my years in the unit, I came out knowing nothing is certain, except change.  Every day is honestly a gift, regardless of how cold it is, and life does not wait "out there" for us.  I learned to love without abandon.

I'm human and therefore get caught up in the chaos of life, worrying about things that really don't matter. Things that are trivial, like the constant pile of Legos on my table and the train tracks built in the center of my kitchen floor. I worry in my current job, where my employers don't require daily showers, but do require a lot of snacks, that my house is in a constant state of disarray and my car is becoming a rolling dumpster.  But every once in a while, life will force be back on my heels and remind me of what is important. Have I loved enough, and do those I love know it? Have I forgiven? Have I stopped, stood still and just inhaled the chaos? Have I looked, really looked beyond the mess and seen the little hands that built the Legos or train tracks or drew the million pictures that in bubble letters say: "Mom I Love You"?  Have I thanked my better half for, in my darkest times, still making me laugh?  I truly hope I have.