Increasingly as I age I see the folly of trying to connect all the dots, the mistake of tight planning so as to control all the variables. I’ve always seen the ‘dots’ of life experiences and felt compelled to find the pattern in them by connecting them. Now I’m learning to see the space between the dots, the gaps, NOT as voids needing my quick fill-in but rather as fertile Life-garden offering up creative surprise.
Years ago, I caught one of my pygmy goats, Spuds, inside the chain link fence surrounding the vegetable garden. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw him inside the fence, munching away on edibles, because my son and I set all the poles, sweated bullets, and built that fence so Charlotte’s garden would be safe. There was Spuds, bigger than life, on the inside of the fence with his little sister, Gizzi, on the outside looking in.
Close inspection of my garden fence told me Spuds’ sin was not that he is wicked, but that he’s too damn observant for his own good. In terms of fault, I’m the culprit: I failed to add sufficient wire tie-downs along the bottom of the fence wire and Spuds was clever enough to locate a gap he could weenie under.
The more I’ve thought about that image of Spuds exploiting a gap in the fence the richer its meaning has become for me as parable of the joys of living in the gaps. Too much of my life is set, planned, tightly scheduled, controlled, and therefore without spontaneity or surprise or much joy. Life needs structure, of course, but our souls benefit also from ‘gaps’ and the will to explore them.
Poet and gardener, Stanley Kunitz, uses the metaphor of a “wild braid” to capture the combination of form and freedom I’m talking about. He writes:
“Almost anything you do in the garden, for example weeding, is an effort to create some sort of order out of nature’s tendency to run wild. There has to be a certain degree of domestication in a garden. The danger is that you can so tame your garden that it becomes a thing. It becomes landscaping. In a poem, the danger is obvious … when you sense everything has been subjugated, that the poet has tamed the language and the thought process that flows into a poem until it maintains a principle of order but nothing remains to give the poem its tang, its liberty, its force. Once the poem starts flowing, the poet must not try to dictate every syllable” (The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden, 2005, p. 78).
That’s what my Spuds is teaching me in his own way: life’s “tang” and liberty and force are not found in the predictable, in the safe, the programmed, the fenced-in and fenced-out plans of life, but rather in the gaps that offer opportunity and surprises.
I still shoo-ed him out of the garden as an interloper. But I have to admit I did it with more than a little admiration for his lesson to me of seizing the moment to live life in the gap!
Joseph Harvill, publisher Great Scots Magazine