Stepping Back to Move Forward

Ilana Marder-Eppstein - Ecuador


November 22, 2013

Lets talk about poop. Not mine, although I probably could talk about that for a good while as well. I am talking about cow patties, the kind that land with a splatter, and if you’re not careful, will fly on to your clean white shirt drying on the nearby clothesline. Here we have seven cows. Each morning I wake up with soreness in muscles that I didn’t know existed from milking the cows and shoveling their manure. I shovel shit, and am proud of it, for this mierda is the foundation of the farm; what keeps our soil happy and healthy.

As I grip my shovel, flinging the poop into a wheel barrel, I think about what makes me happy and healthy. I pile the manure high and we are off, wheel barrel, poop, and Ilana, running down a single track towards a bed of cauliflower. I feel almost giddy with speed, happily rolling along, and suddenly everything stops. We are slammed to a halt. I didn’t see any obstacles obstructing our path, but chunks of manure fling into the air nonetheless. I pause for a minute and realize that we are stuck against a tiny loam, about the size of a tennis ball. I push and push, but the wheel will not budge, it only wedges deeper into the side of the loam. No matter how much strength and effort I put into moving, we will not go forward. So instead I move back, pulling the handles towards my body and then release. With the momentum of stepping back, I am able to move forward, past the loam, hooting and hollering towards the bed of cauliflower.

Even though this concept is quite simple, it is difficult to remember that we all need to take a step back, a step within, before trying to push forward with any task that we are facing. Here I play many roles: I am a farmer, with black nails and a happy heart. I am a teacher, learning how to teach English to 150 High School students. I am a student, grappling with two new languages. I am a construction worker, passing brick after brick to build our community house. Here my wheel barrel is full; full of challenges that contain countless nutrients, like the poop in our soil. With these challenges comes a responsibility, to take time for myself so that I won’t get stuck, wedged against an invisible loam.

It is crucial to take the time to rejuvenate in order to gain the momentum forward. Here the pace is slower, and I find that I am accomplishing more and pushing myself beyond what I once believed I was capable of. I have found the importance of breath. I use it when I am teaching one of my seven classes to create a moment of calm before trying to explain possessive pronouns. I find it weave its way into my lungs as I walk by the river, or as I pause between strokes of my paintbrush. I take the time to feel grateful, to look at the landscape of my life with fresh eyes and say, yes.

Ilana Marder-Eppstein