Column: ‘Stay safe’? How about ‘work,’ ‘learn’ and ‘give’?

  • Suzanne Lupien. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

For the Valley News
Published: 12/18/2021 10:10:15 PM
Modified: 12/18/2021 10:10:04 PM

It has been observed that older folks tend to bristle at newly minted popular expressions, and certainly I’m no exception. “Have a great day” has always bothered me. In an attempt to render it more tolerable I imagine that what I’m hearing is “Have a great Dane!” which is a silly enough thing to hear either going or coming.

In virtually any face-to-face encounter I am having with people known to me, I prefer to ask them specifically how they are, holding the threads to the last time we met in my hand, allow time for a response, and then respond to that, rather than fob anybody off suggesting the possibility of influence over the Fates. I remember reading Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa and discovering the motto of the Finch-Hatton: “Je répondrai”; I will respond.

And I am even more put out when told to “Stay safe.” What in the world is that supposed to mean? First of all, it strikes me as an entirely ridiculous thing for a human being to say, now that we are in the thick of the most unsafe world imaginable thanks to our actions and choices over the last 100 years or so.

(Well, perhaps these vacuous expressions are a sort of coping mechanism. It’s just that, in their triteness, they derail spontaneous honest exchanges, sincere moments of listening and sharing.)

Secondly, the notion to stay safe sounds to me like an invitation to do nothing. Not to exert, or attempt, or intercede, not to go out on a limb for anybody or anything, inferring, thereby, that sitting on the couch with a technological device in your hand is probably your best bet.

Not so very long ago I recall encouraging exhortations such as “Work hard!” “Beaver onward!” “Onward and upward!” “Chin up!” Things meant to engender positive action and participation, rather than comfy passivity which is how “Have a nice day” and “Stay safe” strike me.

In Holland they say “Good day,” which they commonly shortened to “Day.” A very simple way to mark the day without implying how it ought to be taken. Everyone says this 100 times a day, to virtually everyone they pass on the street, to everyone they recognize either as a face they know, or just simply a recognition of another human being concurrently walking this Earth. It feels like an encouragement to receive this day, be ready for what it may bring, and do the best you can with the opportunity.

It also feels like a noble little ceremony, a ritual which somehow raises a body up a notch, with a hint of a healthy moral expectation. Enough of a miracle, I’d say, for the sun to have come up, one more time, after all the world is going through. Beyond that, any idea of passing judgment on the day seems indecent.

Not all days are going to be “nice” or “great,” yet they may be other things — challenging, productive, humbling, interesting, to name a few. Effective immediately, all subsequent days may bestow upon us experiences which are unknown to us today. Days to surprise us, days to make us stronger and wiser.

Life here on the farm is full of dangers, discomforts and perilous exertions. If I were to acquiesce to the prompt to “Stay safe” I don’t think I’d get done the things which need doing. I might not even get a hot meal.

After all, just getting the cookstove heated up involves matches and a hatchet, child’s play, compared to the central commitment of this farm to use draft horses for motive power, cultivating the garden, drawing sledloads of firewood, and so forth.

These two mares, Penny and Sandy, are big and very powerful. I think Penny weighs close to a ton. They could, without the requisite attention and skill on my part, run off with me and seriously injure me, even end my life.

If I were to stay safe I wouldn’t be able to use them. It would be out of the question! You might then find me without a job, sitting in a heated apartment staring at a pair of Belgians painted on a syrup can feeling sorry for myself.

These horses are so useful, and they challenge the heck out of me in beautiful and positive ways. We get things done with no petroleum products at all and we absolutely love each other.

You could say they are just what the world needs.

I want to make things, do things, using my physical energy and my wits, to the very best of my ability. I find land skills to be invigorating, and compelling, and good for the environment by fostering a life in harmony with the natural world.

So if I were to presume to tell someone how to spend their day I would pare it down to a single word, such as “Work!” “Learn!” “Give!”

The prospect of all of us enduring to stay safe is the most frightening thing I can conceive of. What then would we be saving our courage for? What good could possibly come of us?

Suzanne Lupien lives, writes and farms in Vershire.

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