Chopping Wood And Carrying Water

By Joseph J. Mazzella • October 20, 2022

It was the end of Summer and the cool breezes of Fall were in the air. I was a twelve year old boy: skinny, gangly, and in the midst of puberty. Before me was a truckload of wood my Dad, brother and I had unloaded the day before. Now I needed to take it one wheelbarrow load at a time around the house to where we were stacking the chopped wood into cords and covering it with tarp to keep it from getting wet. We were still a few cords short if we wanted to keep the wood stove heating our home for the cold Winter to come.

I got off to a quick start but soon realized I needed to go slower if I didn’t want to exhaust myself. I took my time then stacking the wood so each cord was sturdy with no chance of toppling over. It became a game seeing how neat I could stack it and I found myself even smiling during this hard work. After a while the wood was stacked and my skinny arms were tired but I wasn’t done yet. I still needed to fetch the five gallon water jugs from the spring near our home. Our well water was so full of iron that it tasted terrible, so all cooking and drinking water had to come from the spring. The five gallon jugs felt like they weighed a ton, but taking them one at a time I got them up the hill and back to the house.

I was worn out by this time but as I carried up the last jug I saw my Mom smiling at me from the porch with a glass of iced tea in her hand. She gave it to me and we sat down on the porch with our dogs at our feet. We never said a word just watched the leaves blowing in the breeze, but there was such a peace, a love, and a joy in the air that it felt like it came from Heaven above.

Recently I read an old Zen proverb that goes: “Before enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water. After enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water.” It awakened that memory in my mind once more and I felt myself smiling and thanking God and Mom for that special moment that lives on in my heart.

Enlightened or not, in this life we all have some wood chopping and water carrying to do. It is best then to do it with love in our hearts. It is best to do it joyfully under Heaven’s eyes. And when you are done it is best to sip some tea with someone you love.


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