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What Shapes Us

All that passes descends,
and ascends again unseen
into the light: the river
coming down from sky
to hills, from hills to sea,
and carving as it moves,
to rise invisible,
gathered to light, to return
again. “The river’s injury
is its shape.” I’ve learned no more.
We are what we are given
and what is taken away;
blessed be the name
of the giver and taker.
For everything that comes
is a gift, the meaning always
carried out of sight
to renew our whereabouts,
always a starting place.
And every gift is perfect
in its beginning, for it
is “from above, and cometh down
from the Father of lights.”
Gravity is grace.

– Wendell Berry, The Gift of Gravity

Splitting firewood over the weekend, I swung the axe down upon a log with a previous split running partially down the oak fibers. The axe shattered the log into three pieces, one of which flew directly into my shin just below my right knee. Ouch! Of course it was the right leg–its never the left leg that gets injured. The list of “gifts” is long: Broken leg (car), sprained ankle (basalt), bruised heel (beach), torn calf (crosswalk) and a previous shin injury (steel pole on a wet deck) that looked like a second knee all assaulted the right leg. The left? Blissfully spared such assaults. By comparison this latest incident was just a small bruise and another story to tell.

We all work to make sense of the gifts we’re given, welcome or not, they shape us. We’re molded by the world, branded by others, given a big break now and again, twisted by fate, fallen in love and gutted by loss. Our shape is our injury, accumulated over a lifetime.

It’s not just injuries that shape us, but travel and poetry and great books and a song at just the right moment, by quiet persistence and chance encounters and dumb luck. In quiet moments I linger on conversations I had years ago with people I haven’t spoken with since. The way I see the world, phrases that I use to this day, all came as a gift from a place long ago, silt and debris carried in the current of my life and washing over others before continuing onward to eternity. We carry more than we ever realize, and reveal it to the world one small splash at a time.

A blog is accretive. We observe the world and the gifts we receive–like a snippet from a long Wendell Berry poem–turn them in our minds and release them to wash over others. Some make an impact, most flow unobserved to eternity. Such is the way.

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