Cheryl Hughes: Witness
Julia Cameron wrote, “So much of the loneliness of modern life comes because we no longer witness one another. Our modern lives are vertical with exertion. They are fraught, demanding, difficult. We need someone, someplace to hear how hard they are.”
I think the reason people who are in combat together become so close is because they witness one another’s struggle. It’s a shared pain, a shared knowing. The same thing happens among siblings. “Remember when we had to wash our school clothes in a bucket,” we say to one another or “when we put up a hundred square bales of hay” or “when we stripped tobacco on Thanksgiving Day.”
You can tell somebody about those things, you can write about those things, and others can become second-hand witnesses, but the bond comes from going through those things together.
By the time my younger sisters and I were grown, we swore we’d never marry farmers. They didn’t. I did. Working and caring for the land is difficult. Like a petulant child, it fights you. It wants to take the path of least resistance. Weeds sprout up where you don’t want weeds. Water wears ruts down hillsides and floods fields. Dirt grows hard as concrete or mushy as quicksand. Deer eat sweet potato vines, coons eat corn and squirrels carry off tomatoes like they are nuts they can hoard for the winter—bet they get a shock.
Garey and I have done a lot together on the farm. We’ve witnessed one another’s frustration and fatigue. Even when he goes one way and I go another, we report back to one another at the end of the day.
“The backhoe started up and ran for a few minutes then quit,” he says, “I thought it was the fuel filters, so I changed them, but it didn’t help. I’m gonna call Gary in the morning, and see what he thinks.” (Gary is his go-to friend for those kinds of problems.)
“I got the green beans canned,” I say, “but by the time I got the tomato juice made, I had to stop and mow before dark caught me, so I put it in the refrigerator, and I’ll can it tomorrow.”
This conversation takes place at 8 pm on a Saturday evening. We are reporting back to one another. We are tired, neither of us has eaten dinner. I get some Philly cheese steaks from the freezer, pop them into the oven and get a shower while they cook. At 8:30, we sit down to eat. I pray for an early frost. Garey prays for a late fall. He is the real farmer. I respect that in him
I am Garey’s witness. He is mine. Even when we don’t understand one another’s views, we validate one another’s lives.
On the day of reckoning when I have to give account for the life I’ve led, I think I’ll say, “Ask Garey. He knows.”