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between-our-steps07-12-17-doubleLast week, I spent time by a sheltered pond. Standing in a hollow among the hills, surrounded by thick forest, wind did not reach the water most of the day, so it was mirror-still, reflecting the trees around it. From time to time, flies would touch the water sending tiny ripples. Fish rising to the surface created larger circles, and line from my fishing rod made small waves. Each of these caused the mirror image to waver, until the water settled again into stillness.

A rock dropped into water will soon rest on the bottom before the waves in the water stop spreading. Duckweed rises and falls as the water moves. The pond will be still again soon, but the object that makes the waves is at rest long before the water.

This got me thinking about the ripples we make in the world.

A word spoken is carried by waves in the air. It is gone from our lips in a moment, but carried to those who hear it over some distance. More than one person may take it in. Minds will ponder the word we've already moved past. A word of hope may inspire. A word of comfort may soothe. Whatever is spoken, sent from our mouths, can have an effect that endures.

A big stone will make larger waves sometimes reaching up on to the shore, but the pond can never throw the rock back at us. A word spoken in anger, however, may spark a response that escalates. More words fly until feelings are bruised and hearts fire up. The word is spoken and done, but the ripples can damage a relationship.

Words travel in waves across space. Actions seem more concrete, but their consequences ripple through time.

We touch the hand of a friend. Our fingers move on to other actions, but the other person has been noticed, attended to. They are not alone. The sense of being accompanied lingers.

A simple action is accomplished in a moment, but the effects are not gone. The consequences ripple in life. The stone rests on the bottom of the pool while the circle of waves expands. Skip a stone across the surface and several circles will spread, but the stone will still sink to the bottom. A complex action has many consequences.

A meal is prepared. Onion peels are put into the compost while the onion is chopped and put into oil and spices in a frying pan. A can of chickpeas is opened; the can discarded. Hydro or gas cooks the curry. Energy is used up. The food will provide pleasure and nourishment for the people who eat it, giving energy for the tasks they pick up.

We have to eat. Food is essential to life. But making food creates waste. We can be careful or careless with that waste. Cooking uses energy, and again we choose to be careful or wasteful with the energy we use. The cooking is done when food is set before the people who will eat it, but it will nurture their life as well as create by-products that have to be dealt with. Eating also provides opportunity for conversation and community building. Prepping food stimulates a whole set of consequences.

At the pond where I fished last week, each circle of ripples became quieter as it moved outwards so that the water soon recovered stillness. The reaction to some actions also dissipates quickly, leaving few consequences. But an angry word or a loving birthday dinner can leave enduring marks in those around us. Considering the consequences helps us choose wisely. And perhaps also we can find ways of letting things flow past us so that we can learn how water finds stillness.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister, and writer living near Walters Falls.


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