Get Your Hands Dirty

6 year old boy hands don’t enjoy standing long enough for a picture. It’s a bit fuzzy because the boy wanted to go find a worm for his dirty hands.

This has been the summer of dirt under the fingernails. Of worms wiggling in open hands and mud smudged noses.

I told someone at the beginning of the summer that my goal was to let my kids get filthy-dirty every single day. A muddy kid is a happy kid, as far as I’m concerned. So far, my theory has proven correct.

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They are having a blast. They are learning so much about the outside world by literally digging in.

They are ingesting it!

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They are getting their little hands dirty while experiencing life.

I think we could all take a cue from them.

As a writer, I spend a ridiculous amount of time processing ideas. I’m thinking of storyline options while I’m trying to fall asleep. I discover new characters when I’m grocery shopping. I’m constantly writing ideas in a journal (I have a journal started for the next 5 books I’m planning to write).

This work is all in my head. It’s clean hands work.

I watch documentaries on the subjects I wish to write, read books, scour the internet for resources, tip-toe through the library shelves for great ideas.

But that’s all clean. I get nary a chip in my nail polish.

One thing I learned well while I wrote My Mother’s Chamomile was that to really and truly get it (that is, what life as a funeral director was like), I needed to get my hands dirty. Just a little.

That was why I visited the funeral home and took the tour. Why I needed to be face to face with people, talking about grief. Why I needed to tap into the loss I’ve experienced.

I have to get a little muck under my nails in order to be a better writer.

But that’s writing and writing isn’t life. Life is life. Writing is just a shard of it.

I’ve learned over the last few years that living well requires a lot of digging in. In order to love, you need to go through the gunk with people. Love is about the messiest thing I know of. It requires a lot of us.

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But it’s worth it.

Raising up kids is sweaty work. It is exhausting and terrifying and the biggest joy of my life.

If I want to do it semi-right, I can’t stand to the side with my hands up, refusing to wipe the snotty nose or the slobbery kiss. Being part of a family (regardless of your familial title) takes so much from us.


It’s worth it, too.

Love and kids and marriage and careers and being a good neighbor, goodness me. These things demand hopping into the ditch and getting a little scuffed up.

But all the living that happens in those moments, well, it’s beautiful and full of wonder.

Don’t worry, a little dirt never hurt anybody.


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