Sabbatical Reflections One: Aiming at Targets

To enter rest is active, a decision.

This is a year of settling. That much I have decided.  It may even be a year or two late, meaning my need to settle has been knocking for some time.  I have been unsettled in the very place meant for settling.  The Homeplace.

We bought our farm in 2013.  I went hard to work for a handful of years with a mind to be a full-time farmer.  If you read other posts here or on IG, or read our website homepage, you will get a sense of why such a target is important to us.  

Years ago, I was given a Southern States gift card for appreciation of my role at my “day job” with the tag line, “a gift for your hobby.” Thankful of course, but I bristled at this phrase. My “hobby”?! No. This my passion, my calling, my target. Not hobby. Not side hustle. Not lifestyle. I will prove I can make this a full-time endeavor.

I don’t remember exactly when I realized I would need to remain employed off the farm for the foreseeable future, but that understanding occurred in stages over the last three to four years. Precipitated in part by a family growing older with more expenses, a son going to college and embarking on a life of his own, and the economic tumult of the last few years.    

I admitted the reality to myself and almost immediately gave up my rest.  Such an insight is only clear in hindsight.  I lost my rest because I lost my aim or at least the clarity of my aim.  Thus, I have been unsettled for some time, in incremental ways shifted out of true aim. Looking for the target through the fog.  I am inclined to say that each little shift was not adequately dealt with in its moment but, then I think, perhaps truth is in the process. Arriving at the target does not necessarily mean the course is linear, the conditions perfect.

I poured myself out into the land, the farm, the vision of home that included me, all the time, undivided.  For years prior to farming, we dreamed.  Maybe you are here too.  In those dreaming years and the first five or six of farm ownership, I found inspiration at home and on the farm.  

To unify living.  To live at home.  To work at home.  To be; at home.  

In the manner of the famous Nietzschean aphorism, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”, my “why”  was The Homeplace and one “how” was my day job. Another “how” was also putting “hands to the plow” as often as possible to will the target into aim. I saw this version of my why/how more as a source of dissonance then. I was settled by the form of the target then.  I am growing to see my why/how as a relationship of affordance now.  Seeking to settle in the aim rather than the target. Thankful I am able to do.  Do I make settling passive? Never. Do I negate the target? Never.  To aim at oneness is, in my view, the only true aim.  But, of course, my mortgage must be paid.  A constraint.  Or a condition for making this life.

What are the practical implications of these thoughts?  For me, entering rest as a decision.  

A sabbatical.

To start, from operating our herdshare.  Not because the herdshare is a problem or because a sabbatical is itself a solution. No, because I know I need a breather, a moment, and to act on knowing is truth. 

I need to sit with the real possibility of working off-farm for the next two to three decades.  Is farm income a distraction from farm produce? How does this reality play with our aim? Can I fully “be” at home and also work away from home?  Reflecting. 

I need to focus on the launching of young adults and the raising of those not yet to the point of launch.  Seeking how best to prepare the next generation for their calling as my calling.  What is the role of the farm in that endeavor? Evaluating. 

I need to know myself as a man of extensive capacity without the obligation to exhaust my capacity toward the aims of others.  This is an ownership of limits that reserves my best for the most affected, the arrows.  Am I the bow? How much tension can I endure toward their potential?  Serving.  

Our herdshare is not a particular hindrance for any of these questions. I will, in fact, continue milking cows for now, just with significantly more schedule flexibility in this sabbatical period. The herdshare is our primary farm income and, as such, represents the element that separates farmer from homesteader for us. Part of this rest is to determine whether we want to move into the future as farmers or as homesteaders. To assess our target and evaluate our aim. Not that the two identities need be mutually exclusive but each represents a little different focus and model. I find the distinction helpful in framing the assessment and evaluation.

I am tempted to time this rest period like parentheses around a caveat. To answer, “how long?”, with, “three months”, is an assurance to all.  I am tempted to pre-emptively defend against the inevitable, “but you could…” (insert external, uncontextualized entrepreneurial idea–see how I built some defense in there). Dreaming about how to replace my off-farm income has occupied many of my waking hours.  I am tempted to just keep doing what I have been doing.  I have built something of which I am proud.  We have wonderful relationships with people who love what we do. I am tempted by the pride of identity. I am a farmer; a source of pride like the Avett Brothers said, “pride like my mother has and not like the kind in the Bible that turns you bad.”

I am tempted.  A sabbatical is a risk.  

To what we’ve built. To my identity.

Any time a bow is drawn, we risk poor aim.   

But, it is an opportunity as well. To define a new target or, to reset our aim.

I rest, no parentheses.

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