The first cold morning. Not cool, cold. 23 degrees, wind gusting, ice on the cows’ water a half-inch thick. Long underwear. Gloves. The buttugly hat I got at the thrift store for a quarter. Penny tells me it’s not flattering and she’s right, but I wear it anyway. The sun came on me as I milked, first Pip, then Apple, and I squirted a little milk on the tips of my fingers to warm them. Web duck waited at my side for her morning ration and got it. The sound of her drinking: I love that sound.
Every once in a while, I find myself caught in old ways of thinking and I begrudge the milk she drinks, a cup a day or maybe a little more, 300 days each year. 300 cups. 75 quarts per year for five years now or maybe more. All for a damn duck.
Actually, not true. I haven’t thought that way in years, and I don’t know why I said I have. I guess it’s more that I remember thinking that way, and this morning I remembered it and so gave her an extra slosh, a little stick of the knife, a flip of the bird (so to speak) to that old way of thinking. She probably won’t even drink it all. It’s probably out there right now, frozen solid. Tomorrow morning Penny will kick the icy chunk of it out onto the ground. An offering, then.
Sometimes I think about how people change. How I change. What are the levers? What are the reasons, the motivations? For instance, that thing about the milk, those 75 quarts year after year after year. How did I shift from begrudging the loss of that milk to understanding it’s not a loss at at? Shit, Web doesn’t need it. There’s plenty of food around this place. When did I make that shift? I don’t remember. I don’t think I even realized I’d made that shift until now.
I got an email from Andrea (actually, I got a bunch of emails from Andrea – and she from me – and that might be a topic for another day). You can’t convince people to change, she wrote. You can’t tell them what to do. It needs to come from within.
I think I agree with her, because I can’t think of a single person who convinced me to change, at least not through the act of convincing me to change, which is probably an important distinction. You can’t tell people to change. Or I guess you can, but if you expect it to work, you’re deluding yourself.
But I also think something else: What’s within comes from what’s without (or is it with out?). It’s a reflection of what we see and hear and think, of the landscape we dress ourselves in, of the people we come to know and love (or conversely, to reject and dislike). So what happened with the milk? I fed the damn duck for long enough that I came to like feeding the damn duck, the way she waits by my side until I’m finished milking. If I’m too slow for her liking, she might run her beak along my leg. Preening, almost.
Slowly, what was without came within and I wanted Web to have that milk.
So maybe I disagree with Andrea. Maybe you can convince people to change and maybe the way you do that is you offer them things – thoughts, art, ideas, emotions, memories, music, food, appreciation, affection, whatever you have to offer – and maybe eventually they take that within. Not because you tell them they should. Not because you say here’s this thing I have to offer you to help you change. Not because you’re even trying to change them (that would be crazy).
But because you’re not trying.
Because it just happens.