Rollie-Pollie(s) Gorge

what happens when we allow for emptiness

“Whoever you are: some evening take a step outside your house, which you know so well,” writes Rilke. “Enormous space is near.”

I read this prompt last week in The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World. It’s a book I’ve been working through with my spiritual journaling group via Zoom for the last four months.

Every evening after the dinner dishes are washed, I go out to check the garden. The changes that greet me daily are stunning, if I take time to notice its needs: mulching, weeding, watering, pruning, harvesting. Tending. It feels good to be present to the simple needs of the plants in my care.

Lately, I’m needing to be more vigilant about picking tomatoes. I found a Big Goliath bush tomato over-ripened, rotted on the vine. Juices dripped from its split skin in a messy slurry attracting a joyous swarm of fruit flies. The pear tomatoes—as the most prolific—are also the most prone to falling off the vine when they over-ripen. I plucked a yellow tomato off the ground, and when I turned it over, its underside revealed a bowl-like gorge where six rollie-pollies gorged.

Gorge, is a contronym, I realized. Earlier this week, I’d read a novel in which the author muses about animal behavior and contronyms, and here they both showed up in my vegetable garden, expanding into enormous space. A contronym is a word that functions simultaneously as a homonym and an antonym, which means it’s two words, same spelling, but opposite definitions.

Gorge is a hollow absence and an emptiness when it’s a noun. When it takes the verb form, then it’s the opposite, a filling until no space remains, abundance abounding.

Allowing for Emptiness was my group’s spiritual practice this week, and the reflection on Rilke, the homework. My lesson was the paradoxically nature of emptying, how when I empty my life of excess noise, excess busyness, excesses doing, and just be—well then, I find everything. God. Creation. Life. Spirit. Love.  

Those pillbugs gorged in a gorge of tomato, and as I watched them, I felt tremendous fondness for these tiny armadillo-like arthropods. Related to other crustaceans, they can digest heavy metals like copper and cadmium, and thus detoxify soil. How amazing! They munch on my fallen tomatoes as part of the unifying harmony of the natural world, all happening on the underside of a fallen tomato not much bigger than my thumb.  

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