Chop Wood, Carry Water

Last weekend our family went to Denver for our niece’s wedding.  It was a rare moment in time when our entire family was present, all four generations of us.  There were my parents, still healthy and active in their 80s, and our newest additions, Ike, Ivy, and Braxton, cousins born this past spring within two months of each other.  In between there were more cousins, brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles of all different ages.  It was a time of family fullness and a chance to practice the Zen saying, “Chop wood, carry water.”

The saying, which basically reminds us to keep doing our work as mindfully as possible each and every moment, had a few expressions throughout the weekend.  The first was in my sister’s back yard.   As others relaxed and talked, my father took action with the huge pile of wood scraps in a wheelbarrow.  It wasn’t chopping wood, but it was stacking at its finest.  In minutes he transformed the pile into a tidy arrangement that fit together like a jenga puzzle.  As I watched him, I had a moment of recognition.  That burst of stacking by busy hands was all too familiar to me, a classic case of the apple dropping  right beneath the tree.  Nothing like a weekend with the family to gain a bit of clarity with our tendencies.  And to get the wood stacked.

There were other chances to keep doing work, such as helping out with the dishes and painting table decorations for the big day.  My sister offered an invitation to several of us to “add a few touches” to the small wooden bird houses destined for the reception tables.  What started out as a few drops of paint and swirls of marker, became a line-up of bird houses sporting glittery flower petals and individual designs that made it tough to select a favorite.  It was one of those “just one more touch” projects that took on a life of its own.

On the wedding day we arrived at the location, bird houses in plastic tubs, prepared for an efficient set-up prior to the outdoor ceremony.  The ivy to encircle each bird house was wrapped carefully in a damp towel.  Our only problem was that the caterers were late, which meant no linens for the tables; thus no set-up.  It was a long hour before they arrived.  While guests showed up and took their seats, we were scrambling inside to set up the decorations once the tablecloths were in place.  We stayed calm, honoring each bird house with a wreath of ivy in the middle of a round table.  It was definitely a “chop wood, carry water” moment, setting each little house in place.  We missed the bride walking down the aisle and her dog as a member of the wedding party.  Finally a staff person shooed us outside and said she’d take care of the rest.  Gladly we joined the rest of the family for the happy day.  Everything went as planned and even the hovering clouds withheld their raindrops until the sweet ceremony was over.


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