The Restorative Labor of Love

photo of a woodland creek with a fern in the foreground

It’s a labor of love.

I have been reading and working with Layla Saad’s writing, via her book, “White Supremacy and Me” (with gratitude to those who are working through this with me in our reading/working group) and it has been resonating in me what she says at the beginning, that this work is a labor of love.

This weekend I walked the land that I belong to, and listened to its voice and it reminded me that the work I do there is reparations.

When I remove the trash left by settlers before me: Reparations

When I remove invasive plants brought by settlers that now choke out native life: Reparations

When I teach others how to be in respectful relationship with land: Reparations

When white people hear the word: Reparations–very often we stiffen. We resist.

“I didn’t enslave people. I haven’t beaten anyone to death. It’s not my fault lenders discriminate against people of color. It’s not my fault Black people die regularly at the hands of police. Why do I have to give something up to make it right? It’s not my fault.”

The idea of reparations frightens us.

What will we be asked to give?

Why must we pick up the burden of guilt for another’s crimes?

But when I walk my land, I do not think in terms of guilt.

I do not think in terms of fault.

I think only how much I love my land. I think how much I love my guardian and teacher, I Watch. How much I love the spirit of Alder Creek who runs through the land. How much I love the fireflies. How much I love the pink lady’s slippers and the trillium and the blue flag iris and the woodpeckers and the bobcats and the coyotes and the spiders.

I think only how much I love.

And I pick up the trash and I research how to treat a pest infection and I learn which plants will choke out the others if I leave them unchecked and I give because I love.

What if reparations isn’t about giving up the things we enjoy. What if it’s about wanting the things we enjoy to be available to others in equal measure. What if it’s about laboring to undo the damage of the past because we can, because we want to, because we love?

What if it’s about laboring to bring about a world in which we all are able to enjoy the bounties and blessings of this good green Earth together?

What if the work, rather than being about shame and guilt, is about joy?

What if we, in digging deep to uproot the poison of supremacy where it was planted and nurtured within us, were to do the work in reverence and in joy, yes, JOY. What if, every time we find within ourselves the evidence of that supremacy, we rejoice at the opportunity to remove it, to purge it, to become free and, in turn, to create conditions of freedom for our fellow walkers and standers and sitters and be-ers upon this good green Earth?

What if, when I find yet another oil bottle, poison bottle, plastic bag, barbed wire, buried in the soil of my land, where she has been working for decades to undo the damage, what if when I lift up that piece of garbage from where it never belonged, I give gratitude for the opportunity to put right a wrong, to move ever more into right relationship with the land and all her people.

What if it doesn’t matter if I put it there, only that I am willing to remove it.

What if, when that piece of garbage is a belief or thought or word or action that I myself planted inside myself, tried to bury, what if I pick it out of the good fertile soil of my unconscious mind and carry it away and put it in a garbage bag and dispose of it so that the soil of my mind can grow more good and less rot, and what if I rejoice for the opportunity to do so?

What if, when I discover that the piece of garbage is an element of the system that was established to preference some people over others, I work together with those who have been working for decades to root it out, remove it, dispose of it, and what if I rejoice at the opportunity to do so?

What if every bit of it is a labor of love?

What if?