Ways of seeing: Small stones, strong hands, wide ripples

A few weeks ago, many of us who work to support farms and farm workers in the county, gathered to share ideas and resources. For several years it had seemed that things were getting better: workers were able to get driving cards, purchase cars, open bank accounts, and move more freely in the community. Farming seemed to be rising in the estimation of the public as a desirable way of life and valuable asset to the Vermont economy.
Volunteers from all walks of life and all different faith communities were contributing their skills at the Open Door Clinic, teaching English, helping at the Consulate visits, and providing friendship and transportation. Then the situation started to deteriorate about two years ago: farms were in financial trouble, some of them closed down, workers again felt threatened by national policies. By the time the group met, the unthinkable policy of taking children away from their families and incarcerating them in detention centers had been implemented in the United States of America. The mood of the meeting was one of despair, anger, sorrow, and a sense of helplessness. No one knew what to do or how to respond.
Yet, as people shared the small individual actions each was taking, the mood changed: some people were tutoring, some workers were transporting others for shopping and medical visits, some people were advocating for racial justice and some for better legal services, some were helping people to find and rehab cars, some were creating documentaries and other works of art, many were becoming friends and sharing social occasions.
After listening to each other’s hopes and dreams, most felt that, together, it could be possible to create a network of support that would eventually restore the values of caring and respect that had been a hallmark of our democracy for so many years. One person referred to these small acts of caring as the ministry of small stones. When placed together they can create tribute mounds, pave long roads, build hospitals and schools. It was helpful to think of our small lives as part of a greater sense of meaning, 
But there was obviously so much more to be done as even at that moment many young, innocent children were being traumatized by the cruel and unusual punishment of being separated from their parents. People felt moved to attend demonstrations, both large and small, write to our own legislators to thank them for caring, and work even harder in their own individual ways.
Reaching out to and holding onto one another with strong and caring hands now seems even more important. The images of the young soccer players holding hands as they try to leave the depths of the earth struck a note with me and so many others. In hot and humid weather, when our own lives are over stressed, how can we have the strength to help ourselves and help one-another out of hard places? 
One amazing beacon of hope and model of caring despite the odds was Tracy Corbett. She was a woman with a wonderful smile who tirelessly helped each of us to help others. The ripples of her efforts in this community spread far and wide: through Meals on Wheels, making beautiful music, and supporting others in their efforts as volunteers.
Like most of those whose lives she touched, I was heartsick to learn of her passing. Our young granddaughter was staying on the farm during the memorial service for my parents, where Tracy had been a beautiful loving, laughing, presence. It was hard to explain what happens when people die, yet easy to explain that people live on in the gifts they have given to others.
We talked about remembering to tell people we love and appreciate them while they are still alive. We wrote letters to the children who had been taken from their parents, letting them know we were thinking of them. We wrote letters to our friends saying that we valued their friendship. I’m working on writing a letter to the caring heart of our country, saying we will protect her ability to be strong and compassionate. I’m not an artist or a musician but hope to add my small piece to the work others are doing to help us hold onto one another with love and respect.
Cheryl Mitchell is president of Treleven, a retreat and learning program located on her family’s sheep farm in Addison County. She does freelance consulting on issues related to children, families, social policy and farm to community work.

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