Good morning, everyone! For our first week of reading Gene Everlasting, we read the first four chapters. A few sections in particular stuck out to me:
Sitting in my garden, almost too weak to reach down and pull weeds, I could face death almost peacefully because I had come to realize that the garden, as part of the whole earth-garden was eternal. As part of the earth-garden I was part of the eternal. That's all the paradise I could stand to contemplate.
I have a notion that it is a little easier for gardeners and farmers to accept death than the rest of the populace. Every day we help plants and animals begin life and help plants and animals end life. We are acculturated to the food chain. We understand how all living things are seated around a dining table, eating while being eaten. We realize that all of nature is in flux.
In nature, nothing much really dies. The various life-forms renew themselves. Renewal, not death, is the proper word for the progression of life in nature.
When I read this section, I yelled to my husband "Ha! I'm not crazy! It's just a gardener thing!" When I first became deeply immersed in gardening and composting, I decided what I wanted my husband to do with my body, should I go first. I wanted him to have me cremated (since it's still illegal to compost a person), then sprinkle my ashes into the planting hole of a fruit tree in our back garden. Then, the stuff that made me up, would go into the tree and into the fruit and he could eat the fruit and I could be a part of him forever. He failed to see the romance in this. My best friend laughed when I told her that story. Her dad, a master gardener, told her his ashes were to be worked into the strawberry beds for the same reasons.
I'm not a religious person, so the idea of heaven and hell as it's typically talked about never did much for me. I was reading a book on permaculture, and the writer talked about how we create our own heaven or hell. I've been thinking a lot about that. That matter and energy are never created or destroyed, just rearranged. So our "afterlife" is what that matter and energy turn into after they are done being us. What will their lives be like? Did we make the world a better place, and therefore create a heaven for our afterlife, or did we make it a worse place and literally create hell on earth?
In the last six months, my grandma and my aunt died. I was very close to both of them, so it was hard on me. What has helped has been this focus: that they were beautiful expressions of the universe that I was fortunate to witness, and that they are still here, still star dust and making up something else just as beautiful somewhere.
Cynthia: I'm so sorry to hear about your grandma and aunt. Thanks for sharing that. And thanks for kicking us off on such a thoughtful note. I loved reading your comments so much that I read them again as soon as I finished reading them the first time.
I was just talking to a couple of coworkers last week about how, when I was a kid, the idea of heaven was terrifying because it lasted forever, similar to how Gene describes hell, actually: "There was no end to it. Oh . . . my . . . God. No end." I've never quite shaken that discomfort with the concept of eternity, so this week's reading really resonated with me. I especially liked Gene's epiphany that "'It' had no beginning and will never end . . . I no longer had to worry about how it all began and how it all will end." The not-having-to-worry-about-it bit seems pretty appealing.
I also found it inspiring that he gets so absorbed in learning about something—here, the pollinators in his garden—that he forgets to worry about his own health and mortality. "I felt that I was making a major discovery, at least for myself, and in the process of getting excited by that, I didn't think about dying from cancer for hours on end." I love the idea that being engrossed in something can distract us from all kinds of worries, including ones much less serious than cancer. "There was so much I didn't know, so much to discover just sitting in a chair in the garden," Gene writes. The trick, I guess, is that you have to be curious enough about your surroundings to notice those distractions, to be open to seeing the world as an infinite source of things to learn rather than things to fear. A good reminder, I guess, to look around instead of inward.
I underlined several of the same passages as Cynthia, and I'm wholly onboard, too, with the idea of becoming compost ash. I also liked this: "It only slowly dawned on me that nature was just doing what nature as supposed to do, returning these pastures to woodland again. What was happening was not something bad. Only in my mind was it a cause for tears." All of this made me think of the current reboot of the TV show Cosmos. I haven't seen any episodes yet, though. Have you guys?
And to end on a lighter note, what did folks think about the amount of reading? Should we read chapters 5 through 10 for next week?
Jennifer, I also love that bit about forgetting to worry about dying of cancer. I've noticed that no matter how crummy I feel before I go into the garden, there is so much to be fascinated with that it's easy to forget the troubles for a bit. Why stress about jobs when there are hummingbirds whirring over your head, bees flitting flower to flower and the scent of tomato leaves is strong on the air.
Ladies! Here I am, late to the party, so sorry!
Cynthia, thank you so much for starting the dialogue and sharing your personal loss. For me it feels weird to share the same with "strangers", but I think it's important because it helps us to get to know one another. My father-in-law passed away in January and although we were preparing for it, you are never really ready. I, too, have been comforted at times by nature and the cycle of life while feeling blessed that I got to spend the amount of time with him that I did. I love that you wrote about them being "beautiful expressions of the universe".
All of the lines you highlighted above resonated with me as well. I love how, in stillness, he finds peace through clear observation. I've been studying meditation (slowly) for a while now and what Gene describes reminds me of Stephen Cope's interpretation of sukha - a state where afflictions are quieted and the "Mind is unobscured - seeing clearly, and perceiving base reality rather than ideas about reality". There's an evolutionary case to be made for viewing the world with filters we have learned but the purity and revelation of his statements really came from removing those filters. If even for a short time. So amazing what sitting in nature can do!
Jennifer, I find it so interesting that you and Gene questioned eternity as kids. It's something I've thought about recently because my husband was sharing some stories about arguing with his father when young about the existence of God. And I just think, what was wrong with my 9-year old-self that I had no questions like this? Was I just a Stepford by-product of my very sterile suburban childhood? I don't remember ever considering questions this large as a child. How do I encourage our (future) children to be this inquisitive?
What a beautiful read so far, I'm definitely down to discuss chapters 5-10 next week.
We have some video of a hummingbird moth we first met this August, I just need to figure out how to make it small enough to upload. I love that I learn something new most days... but a lot of that was just due to not knowing much to begin with!
Not late at all! (Hey. It's an online book club. We can make our own rules.) Tara, I think my thinking about eternity as a kid was mostly a symptom of being an only child with lots of time to mull big questions. And I agree with you: What a beautiful read so far, indeed—although it does stir lots of stuff up. On that note, thank you, Tara, for sharing your loss. I hope no one feels like they have to share anything they don't want to, but I'm really glad and appreciative that you guys have been up for tackling such heady material together.
Sorry to be late. I appreciate how open everyone is and I am deeply sorry about the losses shared.
Enjoy Gene's voice, writings, and stories but his perspective is not mine... at least not in terms of rejecting religion. Specifically the concept of Heaven, Hell, and Eternity. At a rather young age (6) I chose to follow Jesus Christ. A personal decision that hasn't let me down or failed me. Through pain, suffering, and doubt I continue to believe and hold on to my Savior. I certainly can understand why Gene struggled as he did and frankly religion can leave a bad taste in anyone's mouth.
My favorite passages were: 1. "Lesson to be learned: Don't overreact to bad new, including cancer." and 2. "I think cancer drove me to write more rather than less for the same reason that a fruit tree will increase output if its bark is lacerated with cuts and slashes. Threatened with danger, the writer as well as the apple tree is frightened into greater production."
1. As a (hopefully) reformed chronic over reactor I can understand his point that our reaction doesn't change the situation or that there are other influences that we might not see. His example was the influence of other pollinators and that not ALL our honey bees were dying. Some are living on, adapting, and even possibly thriving.
2. That threatened with danger (loss, fear, struggles, suffering) it can in fact bring out the better things in ourselves. We don't want to have to suffer but good things can overcome the bad.
There was much more that I enjoyed and felt was especially true for those of us raising animals and drawn to the Earth and dirt. His time weeding while undergoing treatment, the killdeer on his mother's grave, the story of the farmer that left his cows at slaughter but they heard his voice and cried out for him. Very thoughtful and honest.
I look forward to the next chapters.