The Learning Well
You would not know it by looking at it now. Thirty or more years of brush and trees surround its perimeter. If you were not looking for it you might never know it was there or know the joy of how it was made. You might, in fact, think it was just another spot, in another yard, in another town, in any country in the world. But it is a Learning Well, where lessons learned as a young man continue to teach the older man I have become.
When I was into fishing, I thought it might be ideal to have a pond nearby. The wet weather streams in my neighborhood caused me to think about what it would be like to have a pond in my backyard. What better way to have a pond, than to have a well to feed the pond. What better way to have a well, than to dig a hole. Upon hearing my ideas on the matter, my father handed me a shovel and, I assume, laughed under his breath as I walked away.
I dug. I dug a lot. As luck would have it, my father was the type of father that wanted to spend time with me regardless of what activity I chose. My digging turned into our digging. My project became his also. We got more tools. We developed a pulley system out of an old swing set. After he came home from work and on weekends, we dug. In the heat of summer and at peak hours of sunshine, we dug. Our next door neighbors would swim in their pool and ask us to join them and we declined, as we were working on bigger things.
We had to make two levels in our well as our ladders became too short to climb in and out. We eventually had to borrow a bell pump and get rain water out before we started each day because the well became so deep. We spent a summer, an entire summer, digging what would, over time, be known as, “the well”. Though there was never any water struck or found, we never lost interest. But, as we looked up at the sky through 18 feet of what was essentially a hole, it seemed like the walls might cave in. So, one day we just quit.
So was it a hole or a Learning Well? It was a Learning Well and more. My father taught and I learned. And if I venture to guess, I may have done a little teaching myself. We grew up together there. He taking in my younger outlook on living and me seeking advice about the then unknown. We laughed. We talked. We rested. We worked. If those were the only things we learned that would have been enough, but as I look back on those days, when nothing mattered except the process and not the goal, where we knew when we woke up what we were going to do, regardless of if it mattered, it makes me pause.
Some Buddhist monks spend hours making beautiful artwork out of sand and then sweep it away. They’re thinking is that everything, even the beautiful thing they created, is impermanent and this is a way to detach themselves from worldly things. My father, while digging the Learning Well, carved himself into my soul. And while the well is now just a part of some yard, somewhere, there is nothing that can sweep him away from the core of who I am. That is not parenting, that is “God-ing”. It could have been anything, but it was a well. Or rather, the digging of a well, that shaped who I am.
Do not look for water. Do not look for love. In fact, do not look for anything, but enjoy the digging. The riding around in a car. The bed times and the bath times and the times in between. When you look at a flower, enjoy the beauty and the smell. Do not worry about how it got there or what will happen after you are gone. And in times of trouble, breathe in what breath you have and be at peace, for troubles will come and they will pass, just as the well is over grown and the Buddhist art is swept away. But the you, that is you, will be both a home to others and a permanent resident in others hearts. Love boldly. Extend grace. Live now. This is my wish for you.