Monday, February 23, 2009

A Good Wife

"A good wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchants, she brings her food from afar.
She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and tasks for her maidens.
She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She girds her loins with strength and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hand to the distaff and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of snow for her household for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat of the bread of idleness.
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her of the fruits of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates."

Proverbs 31:10-31

Memory fails me: I don't recall whether it was my now-estranged best friend, or my fiance's ex-lover who brought that scripture to my attention for our wedding. It was an instant favorite for me, though I had no idea that within a couple years I would actually "consider a field and buy it". Even before that came to pass, there were so many lines that resonated with me. The spinning, the purple clothing, the lamp not going out at night...the overall picture of industry, generosity, responsibility.

We thought it odd that there was no apparent counterpart scripture enumerating the virtues of a good husband, which would have been a nice balance for the readings on that occasion.

But how ironic! In the long run, the marriage that endured was the marriage between the "good wife" and the field she bought. Or perhaps more than that, a marriage of self with self, the "farm wife" wed to a "husband" who is not a bearded stranger, but herself, the "husband" in "animal husbandry"...the shepherd, the keeper of the flock and the sheepfold. (Even this self-husband is a bit of a stranger to me-wife, as I-the-husband venture further and further into skills that me-the-wife would never have dared, such as any tool powered by gasoline or electricity).

Thus I find now, far too late for that ill-fated wedding, the scriptures that spell out the virtures of the husbandman: the many descriptions of the good shepherd tending to his flock, searching them out when lost, defending them from predators, establishing the deep knowing and trust of his sheep.

Without trying, I find I have conformed myself more and more to the description of the "good wife"--yet more and more, I am both the woman and the man in this odd parody of a traditional life. I wear the woman's covering without the dress and apron--how terribly dangerous they'd be climbing over fences, wielding a chain saw, scaling the tall ladder to the top of the barn to fix the roof in a storm, swinging the scythe in a sharp breeze, driving the bus for a living. For all these things and more, I need to wear the pants. But the covering keeps my hair clean and contained as I push around hay bales and work in the wind.

This marriage of one does not liberate me from the need to continually compromise. There are surely as many compromises as in a marriage of two. They are simply different compromises--in this strange marriage of one, it's the kind of compromises that come with playing all the parts in a play: everything is sequential, I can't be in two places at once. The work of both farm wife and husband suffer--the Burger King cooks supper too often, and both house and workshop are in perpetual--yet everchanging--disarray and disrepair. The ends of my life do not meet, but it's a merry chase most the time. The Good Wife thrives on busy-ness.

Most the time.

In a marriage of one with oneself, there is no second pair of hands to wrangle a board into place, no one to give a second opinion on the herbs in the stew, no one to bounce decisions off of, to brainstorm and elegant solution to a technical dilemma. No wisdom or experience beyond my own to bring to bear on the relentless stream of decisions--large and small--required to keep this Pinwheel "going around in circles". Oh, I know I'm not alone--God's with me through thick and thin--but He just doesn't hold both ends of the tape measure, or start the bread in the bread machine while I feed the sheep.

No one to argue with? Somehow it seems more effective to argue with myself than to reason things out with myself. Probably because arguing is never very effective anyhow, so what's the difference?

In the long run, the hardest thing for me in this marriage of one is the empty end of the day, when the wonderful weekend guests have left and the apprentice has gone home to her husband, my absentee housemate has crawled into the alternative reality of his headphones, and there are no other ears than my own to listen to (and understand--that rules out the dog) a litany of little triumphs, accomplishments and observations of no real consequence to anyone outside this strangely foreign land where I live:

"I finished weeding the cilantro bed to day--how good to feel dirt under my nails again--I saw a nightcrawler curled under the deep mulch--the last of the bromegrass is gone from where the old tarp shed was--I thought of the friend whose garden plot used to be there, will his onions come up yet again there after so many years?--the elms are blooming, and soon the silver maple--"

I'm interviewing apprentices for this coming season, several who've expressed a desire to live here and learn something of the art of farming in return for their youthful energy. An intern for a single season isn't quite the same as a longterm help-meet, doesn't know the stories behind each little achievement, doesn't have the same commitment to the things that we do when we "farm for next season" instead of doing it quick-and-dirty-good-enough-for-now. But it will still be nice to have someone around that, when they go home at the end of the day, is just in the next room.

I do truly love this life God has given me. I do my best to be a good wife, and a good husbandman-shepherd, as I am able. I look to His scriptures for guidance, in my own quirky way (another area in which I crave companionship that seems not to be my lot in life). But when He said, "It is not good for the man to be alone", I think this is true for the helper He created, as well.

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