I’ve been labelled a great many things in my life. Switching between ‘grump’, ‘curmudgeon’, and ‘contrarian’, I have generally accepted and endeavoured to embody these caricatures as best I could. And while there has most certainly been an element of play and humour in performing this role, there has also been a certain degree of faith in the value of scepticism and general contrariness in the search for truth.
A good friend recently emailed me this poem from Farming: A Handbook by Wendell Berry. He said he thought of me.
The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer
I am done with apologies. If contrariness is my
inheritance and destiny, so be it. If it is my mission
to go in at exits and come out at entrances, so be it.
I have planted by the stars in defiance of the experts,
and tilled somewhat by incantation and by singing,
and reaped, as I knew, by luck and Heaven's favor,
in spite of the best advice. If I have been caught
so often laughing at funerals, that was because
I knew the dead were already slipping away,
Preparing a comeback, and can I help it?...
"Dance," they told me,
and I stood still, and while they stood
quiet in line at the gate of the Kingdom, I danced.
"Pray," they said, and I laughed, covering myself
in the earth's brightnesses, and then stole off gray
into the midst of a revel, and prayed like an orphan.
When they said, "I know my Redeemer liveth,"
I told them, "He's dead." And when they told me
"God is dead," I answered, "He goes fishing ever day
in the Kentucky River. I see Him often."
When they asked me to join them I wouldn't,
and then went off by myself and did more
than they would have asked. "Well, then," they said
"go and organize the International Brotherhood
of Contraries," and I said, "Did you finish killing
everybody who was against peace?" So be it.
Going against men, I have heard at times a deep harmony
thrumming in the mixture, and when they ask me what
I say I don't know. It is not the only or the easiest
way to come to the truth. It is one way.