On August 27, 2008, I wrote my epitaph , in Spanish, in part because I was heading to the Feast of Tabernacles that year in Chile and my mind was in a Spanish-speaking place, and in part because as a poet, one has to be sensitive to questions of language, as some aspects of language are more beautiful and more elegant in some languages than in others. In Spanish, for example, my epitaph reads as follows: “Vivir es sufrir / Morir es domir. / Aqui no sufrirè nada más, / Así dèjame dormir en paz.” Translated into English, this becomes: “To live is to suffer / To die is to sleep. / Here I will suffer nothing more, / So let me sleep in peace.” Even during the fallow years of my deep gloom, I was wrestling with large questions as to the meaning of life, and what insight could be gleaned from it, and what wanted written on one’s tombstone, to leave behind as a record of one’s life to others after one was gone.
I have long looked to Abraham Lincoln as a model of how to cope with the difficulties of life and the frustrations of ambitions . I have pondered how he learned how to become a gentleman, how he wrestled with a task of reuniting the United States that was more difficult than Washington’s, how he punctured the arrogance of slaveowners who believed that slavery was a good thing for other people, and how he wrestled with the divine will. Given the fact that Lincoln is widely thought to be at the very top of any ranking of American presidents , it is worth reflecting on the fact that for a president, his record was remarkably thin. He had been active as a political candidate, but had twice been defeated in efforts at achieving the spot of U.S. Senator for Illinois, once because of the refusal of anti-Nebraska Democrats to vote the longtime Whig in 1854, and once because of malapportionment in districts in 1858 that led to Lincoln’s majority of votes becoming a minority of members of the state legislature that voted for Senators. He had been elected half a dozen times to the Illinois legislature and served one term as a U.S. Representative but had never held executive office, nor been considered for any position higher in the Executive Branch of government during his life than the territorial governor of Oregon during the presidency of Zachary Taylor, a position he declined out of respect for his wife’s refusal to leave the civilized and comforts of Springfield for such a pioneer experience. Until the very end of his life, Lincoln had a reputation for being well-spoken, thoughtful, and a man of character and integrity, but this did not lead him into the rewards of the highest offices, and instead landed him in frequent disappointment. Yet all that time spent out of office, working the Eighth Circuit ride, and honing his arguments about slavery and constitutional law were not wasted time, for they were preparing him for the greatest test of his existence, a test he passed with flying colors, though at the cost of his life in a cowardly assassination.
In 1980, my father turned 34 years old, and five days after his birthday he married my mother. From what I have heard, at least, he felt under a great deal of pressure to marry. My mother, in her own way, seems to have felt under internal pressure to marry, and never has seemed entirely comfortable with being single. Some people, regardless of the circumstances of their lives, even in the absence of romantic intimacy or relationships, always tend to have some sort of flirtatious friendships with people around them. Such is the case, for example, with me. Like my father, I know the pressure of having relationships, as I cannot even chat with friendly children without fielding awkward questions about why I have not found someone to marry and why I don’t have any children yet when it is fairly obvious that I would be a loving husband and father for all of my quirks and eccentricities. If small children not yet in kindergarten can ask such questions because they seem puzzling, it is certainly a puzzling matter to larger people, and frequently to myself. Yet if, like my father, I have felt a great deal of pressure when it comes to relationships, like my mother I have never been able to go very long without some sort of dramatic situation, some sort of friendship of teasing flirtation and frustration, of difficulties in communication. At some point all of that effort at communication and relationships has to pay off, right?
While I have not ever been married, or yet been close to marriage, nor do I see any immediate prospects for it, some friends of mine are working on their second marriages. Indeed, I recently saw a friend of mine  who had been pushed into a shotgun marriage after an unplanned pregnancy announcing that she was now engaged to another gentleman, when I was unaware that she had even been divorced from her first husband. Nor is this phenomenon limited to women; when I attended the Night To Be Much Observed I spoke with a young woman whose ex-husband had gotten married for a second time on the anniversary of his first marriage only days after the divorce had been finalized, which is acting with all kinds of ridiculous haste. It is somewhat disconcerting that while I flounder so unsuccessfully seeking to marry right the first time, many of my peers are working on their second marriages with barely a pause after the dissolution of their first marriages. Perhaps being in the marriage market is like being in the job market—having experience, even bad experience, is better than having little or none at all. The fact that one was able to have convinced someone to marry someone in the past makes it easier to convince someone else to marry one in the future, even if the first marriage does not work out. Yet when marriages do not work out, hearts are broken, it becomes difficult to trust, and one often has to deal with the reality of complicating the lives of beloved children. And failure is a habit; once someone walks away the first time, it is easier to keep on walking or running away anytime things get difficult or unpleasant.
I consider the years between 2006 and 2011 to have been largely fallow years in my life. Perhaps a great deal of that comes from my family background in agriculture. A farmer who wishes to preserve as best as possible the fertility of the soil will leave his fields periodically fallow. This is not only wise from an agronomy perspective, but is a command by God given in Leviticus 25:1-7, which reads: “And the Eternal spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a Sabbath to the Eternal. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Eternal. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard. What grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine, for it is a year of rest for the land. And the Sabbath produce of the land shall be food for you: for you, your male and female servants, your hired man, and the stranger who dwells with you, for your livestock and the beasts that are in your land—all its produce shall be for food.” As my father’s family is a farming one, every few years field are left fallow, and when they are left fallow the cover crop is usually alfalfa, which is tasty both for people on salads, where it can be found to put on salads given concerns over E. coli, and for deer, which are willing to risk eating out in the open Pennsylvania sky in evening or night in order to eat the tasty sprouts.
When one is farming, one knows that one has to let the land rest and recuperate so that it can grow its best. Being a person who tends to struggle with rest and relaxation, who tends to feel under extreme pressure, to feel as if life on this earth will not be long because it cannot persist under its current pressure indefinitely without something breaking down absolutely, I tend to find myself frustrated at fallow periods. Yet they are necessary. Jerusalem, because of its inabilities in resting as it was commanded to do, was let to lie fallow in ruins for seventy years until its Sabbaths had been fulfilled. So too, it is possible that the fallow years of my own life, the frustrated longings and ambitions, have a larger purpose of their own, and that the end result will be far more uplifting and successful than the hurrying along from one situation into another, without having taken the time to pause, reflect, and recuperate from the difficulties that have come before. If all is pressure and stress, whether internal or external, then one never has the chance to be fully rehabilitated or restored to a state of peace and contentment. And if it is hard to find contentment, it is certainly worthwhile to find it, not least because what we were created to be requires effort that can be sustained, which requires pacing and endurance, and is not something that can be done with sprits.
Yet fallow rest is not the end in mind. One of the reasons I long delayed writing this memoir is that I had not reached a level of sufficient success, in my mind, to justify writing about my life, because the arc had not reached a high enough point to show glory and praise. With no marriage, the struggles with intimacy that were the result of early child abuse and a disastrous family background had not been fully redeemed with success, only with the reality of present and the likelihood of future struggle and difficulty. With no positions or offices of great honor and responsibility and no full recognition of talents lying fallow and unused, there was no ability to point to my having been put along the sort of route and track that would fully utilize my God-given abilities. If there is still space to go and room to achieve far more in life, that means that any ending to an account is not a denouement, but merely an obvious place for a sequel to follow. It is in the same place as a hits album that is titled volume 1, with the obvious expectation of there being a volume 2 to follow, even before the additional music has been recorded. And what can be meant as a sign of hope of better days to come can easily seem to be bragging without having accomplished anything to be bragging about.
And yet if I feel as if I am writing a memoir of a life that had been, at best, something like Abraham Lincoln’s life in the 1840’s and 1850’s, where whatever potential promise existed in that life had not been fully realized, and where there was a great deal of concern that it might never be realized, such fallow years are not wasted if they remind us that just because a crop is not yet harvested does not mean that there is not an enriching of the soul under the surface, or that the time is entirely wasted and unproductive because it has not fully borne fruit. We may know that we were put here to show fruits of the Spirit, to live a productive and successful life, and to bear in our lives and experiences the image and likeness of our Heavenly Father, and we may chafe at the bit at not having shown the production that mirrors the potential that we have. But so long as we know that this is not the end and that we have to keep working and keep improving, after the time of rest is done, then the time is not wasted at all, but is a brief intermission between where we are and where we will be.
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