Soft warmth whispers from the smooth grey stone in my lap. I don't know the history of this stone--where it was formed and quarried and how long ago, how it was cut into the smooth hymn-book-sized rectangle, how many hands handled it and wore the corners down--but I love its weighty, enduring and immediate presence.
This small soapstone slab is a treasured fixture of our home, one of a small family of such stones that congregate on the woodstove, always ready for use. In warmer weather, they gather dust on that stove--like everything here gathers dust: blown in from the dirt road, drying and crumbling from the soles of workboots, sifting down from the crumbling horsehair plaster of our 1830s ceiling. The daily go-round with the broom and the weekly vacuum attack seem powerless to clear the dust from the stones' smooth, cool surfaces. But when the weather turns cold and the stove is fired up, the dust no longer appears. The fire-warmed stones come into regular use, set on the floor of a chilly room to warm our feet when sitting, or wrapped in raggedy towels and tucked under blankets to warm the sheets at bedtime. Today, in this achingly cold old house, the stone shifts between lap and desktop when the icy air stiffens my fingers and slows my typing.
I have always loved stones, smooth or rough. I have always loved rocks of every kind. An entry in my baby book describes a toddler reverie during a family trip to the Pacific Northwest coast, where all my attention was given to the gathering of smooth black stones I called "baby crow eggs." Such searches have always been a joyfully meditative pastime... and I fuss over each beautiful little treasure like a mother hen tends the dear eggs her nest.
Last Friday morning, I found a rare thing: an unwelcome stone. It was a bread-loaf-sized rock--we actually mistook it for an escaped loaf from the bag of "pig-bread" we glean from a local bakery. I noticed it near my car when our dog took me out for our morning walk. I made a mental note to carry it down and feed it to the pigs sometime later. My partner noticed it too, in her rush to start the car and head off to work. Then, she sat down in the driver's seat and discovered "the strangest frost pattern" on the windshield. Only it wasn't frost... and it wasn't a loaf of bread.
We were the fourth call to which the deputy responded. It seems some kids went on a midnight spree and we were one of the seemingly random "beneficiaries" of their little KristallNacht. We comforted ourselves with that randomness. We smiled a little wearily, but smiled nonetheless, when the deputy asked if there was anyone we'd argued with, anyone who might hold a grudge. No, sorry, not one--we two earnest community servants could think of nobody we'd angered or offended. The deputy nervously mentioned my "Celebrate Diversity" bumper sticker, but it didn't seem like a factor of provocation--since I always back my car into its spot, the sticker is never visible from the road. We later learned that a plant nursery had also been vandalized. That reinforced the apparent meaninglessness of it all. Why would anyone purposefully attack a place that grows hostas and heathers and daylilies for a living? They simply saw it as a grand place to smash a great deal of glass.
Well, the deed was done, and there was nothing for it but to file a police report, make an insurance claim, and look with despair at my checkbook. There was less than I needed to cover the deductible, and other than calling up all my friends and asking them to come over and buy meat and eggs today, I couldn't think of any way to bring in lots of cash in a hurry. We didn't want to use a credit card--not when we've been working so hard to pay everything down. With the morning eaten up by waiting and making our police report, my partner got off work for the rest of the day and we threw all our frustrated energies into a review of our farm accounts.
Mountains of receipts were scared up from various dark corners and assembled on the table. We sorted and tallied together: feed bills, new chicks, seed-starting supplies, glass to repair a barn window... like the old soapstones, these little slips of paper hinted at hard knocks and careful attentions. Stacked and tallied, they helped tell the story of our attempts at a well-rounded life. Even as we marvelled at the great outflow of money, even as we pondered and despaired over the national economic downturn and the dwindling income of my off-farm job, we found pride in the evidence of all that we'd done. I was reminded of Douglas Adams' wry observance in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: "most of the people living on [Earth] were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy."
Receipts are useful records, but they do not change the situation. Stones give beauty and warmth, but not kindness. What repaired the fractured web of our windshield was not glass, glue and tools, but the people who knew how to use them--the two lads in the white van who did their job with sympathy and care, then stayed to scratch our dog's belly, admire the strolling bantams, and take pictures of our cows to share with their families. What repaired the web was the quick response and expressions of concern from neighbors and friends. What repaired the web was our church family's willingness to pray that the perpetrators cease their destruction and come to know some sort of peace and restorative justice.
What repaired the web was a circle of love and connection: farmers and tradesmen, deputies and ministers, brothers and sisters. Oh, and the little green pieces of paper may help too, according to the mysterious e-mail that reached us last night:
"Dear Representative of the Hard Times Corp
Let it hereby be known that Mr Scot Brievewit is checking his bank account to see if he has enough overtime money in it to cover the deductible on your windshield that was destroyed by Mr Random Violence in a collision. Stay tuned for further developments. The aforesaid Mr Brievewit learned of your mishaps this morning. He is considering the reward for your Perserverance, Hard Work, and Ability to stay Focused on your Mission. Also because you are his daughter.
The Financial Committee of the Brievewit Family Unlimited"
Well, it's starting to happen: the soapstone is beginning to lose its warmth. Time to put it back on the stove and tackle some other paperwork, so I'll be ready for tonight's church meeting and tomorrow's New Ventures class. In between the fiduciary fuss and encounters with the elements, as we move through this season of harvest and thanksgiving, let me offer up my "two bits":
1. I'm thankful for all who keep me connected.
2. My Parents Rock.