Wendell Berry: To care for what we know

Late Summer Fields (2018)

• • •

To care for what we know requires
care for what we don’t, the world’s lives dark in the soil,
dark in the dark.

Forbearance is the first care we give
to what we do not know. We live
by lives we don’t intend, lives
that exceed our thoughts and needs, outlast
our designs, staying by passing through,
surviving again and again the risky passages
from ice to warmth, dark to light.

Rightness of scale is our second care:
the willingness to think and work
within the limits of our competence
to do no permanent wrong to anything
of permanent worth to the earth’s life,
known or unknown, now or ever, never
destroying by knowledge, unknowingly,
what we do not know, so that the world
in its mystery, the known unknown world,
will live and thrive while we live.

And our competence to do no
permanent wrong to the land
is limited by the land’s competence
to suffer our ignorance, our errors,
and — provided the scale
is right — to recover, to be made whole.

• Wendell Berry
A Small Porch: Sabbath Poems 2014 and 2015

17 thoughts on “Wendell Berry: To care for what we know

  1. “So, friends, every day do something

    that won’t compute. Love the Lord.

    Love the world. Work for nothing.

    Take all that you have and be poor.

    Love someone who does not deserve it.

    Denounce the government and embrace

    the flag. Hope to live in that free

    republic for which it stands. . . . . .

    . . . Ask the questions that have no answers.

    Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias. . . . ”

    (excerpt from Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front by Wendell Berry)

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  2. Berry is also a deep thinker without being drawn into the maelstrom of insanity that some deep thinkers succumb to.

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  3. Long time Wendell Berry fan here.
    Jayber Crow, one of Berry’s novels, has a two-hanky ending.

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  4. –> “I was a better person because I lived with someone who helped uncover and reveal a better part of me.”

    No one could ask for anything more from a spouse. Thanks for sharing the insight that comes from your experience. Sorry, also, for your loss. I hope God/Jesus/Spirit are blessing you with some periodic comfort and hope.

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  5. –> “It wasn’t until I got married that I realized how much I say and do that I am blissfully unaware of.”

    Same here, but not only that, it took 25+ years of marriage for me to realize some of my worst foibles! For example, it took years and years of being “called to the carpet” before realizing what a obnoxious passive-aggressive bast**d I can be. Now I’m able to recognize it in myself, and really see that many, many people are that way.

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  6. Your love for her is apparent in your reflections here. I’m familiar with Parkinson’s related dementia as my dad is currently experiencing it. The “dance” is exquisite and painful, joyous and solemn. I am very grateful for my wife. Again, so sorry for your loss of Marge. There are no words.

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  7. “The tension of the opposites is a dance that is always morphing and gets lived through over long stretches of time.”

    Marge has been dead for a little over one year. Every day I realize once again that part of me is now gone. We talked almost every evening and attempted to listen to each other. Late in her life, she developed dementia related to Parkinson’s. Her neurologist explained to me that this was different than that related to Alzheimer’s. She had terrible memory loss, but still retained powers of reason and reflection. She helped me change in ways too numerous to list. I was a better person because I lived with someone who helped uncover and reveal a better part of me.

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  8. An assortment, we
    Of hand held mirrors God holds
    Reflected image

    (Apologies to Robert – the haiku master)

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  9. Self reflection is virtually impossible, not utterly and completely impossible but close, without the presence of another, particularly one of the opposite sex. As a psychology major I felt pretty good about my ability to consider my foibles, pay attention to how I spoke and so forth. It wasn’t until I got married that I realized how much I say and do that I am blissfully unaware of. I think it goes deeper too than just observation of simple behaviors. The tension of the opposites is a dance that is always morphing and gets lived through over long stretches of time. It is a reflection of the mystery of Christ and the church as well. We only “fully” (yeah right) know ourselves by relationship. You might say the Lord knows himself through us and we through him.

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