Anytime I see those stars, I remember that night. I was maybe four or five years old when my father took me out to show me the Big Dipper. We were at my grandparents’ house on the family farm, and it was dark and cloudless. I cannot say why he took me and my brother out there that night, or even if anyone else remembers it. But I will never forget standing in that yard that he himself had stood in as a child, looking up at the stars as he had done with his father, and learning about the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, and the North Star. A realization hit me that night that I could not understand or express until years later, one simple truth: it is good to be here.
On Christmas Eve, 1776 my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Joshua Davis, purchased some land south of Aycock Swamp in what was then Dobbs County (now Wayne) in North Carolina. This parcel of land was added to the ever-expanding farm of Joshua, and has since passed down from generation to generation to us who love it today. My daughters are part of the tenth generation of Davises to walk on that farm. When I take them out there, show them the chicken houses that I played in as a kid, pick blueberries and smile purple smiles with them, I once again know: it is good to be here.
It is good. How do you assign value to something? In today’s world we tend to think that something is good if it brings in a lot of money or attention. But goodness is not quantifiable. Goodness is not for sale. Goodness has no monetary value, no speculative value, no trading value. There is on our farm priceless goodness that nobody would ever pay for. The good of the farm is not in its productivity or real estate value. It is good for its own sake.
It is good to be. Existence itself is a gift from God. To live is a good thing. To wake up in the morning and take in air through your lungs and light through your eyes is good. To have a mind that can think is good. To have a body that can move is good. Trees, flowers, weeds, brush, crops, squirrels, snakes, deer, birds, bees and all the living things on our farm are good. They delight their Creator. Their very existence is good.
It is good to be here. I did nothing at all to deserve a farm that has been in my family since the American Revolution. An accident or miracle of my birth connected me to that land. But that land, that place, that farm is a good gift from God. It is where God placed me, where God established me. The very act of creating is making room for something else to exist. It is making a place for something else. Creating is an act of radical hospitality that gives to the creature a place to belong.
Being the recipient of all this goodness bears with it certain responsibilities. If it is good, then I must maintain its goodness. When I walk the fields and forests of our farm I see the goodness of Creation that reveals to me the goodness of the Creator. That Creator has entrusted this piece of Creation to my family, not for us to exploit or consume, but to care for as stewards. The farm isn’t really ours, after all, but God’s.
If it is good to be, then I must allow for others to be, too. God has given me life, but mine is hardly the only life that God cares about. God seems to really enjoy all life and all living things. God is the one who knows when a sparrow falls. That sparrow should not fall by my hand. Every time we humans try to get ahead, try to conquer this Creation that God did not intend for us to conquer, we take more lives. Even in farming, working with and within Creation to provide food, we spray our fields with chemicals that harm more than just the pests we desire to eradicate. I am by no means above killing plants and animals alike that I may eat. I am, however, answerable for the lives I take.
If it is good to be here, than I must keep this place good for others. Generation to generation has passed through this farm, and each generation has made changes. When Joshua Davis passed, the farm was 1500 acres and included a gristmill, a sawmill and a turpentine still. Our farm today has none of those things and is a fraction of the size. Changes have been made through the generations, with no knowledge of what future generations would need or want from the farm. But I was taught from an early age at my father and my grandfather’s knees that we have the responsibility of taking care of this farm today so that others may enjoy its goodness after we are gone. As Wendell Berry might put it, we invest in the millennium.
This is what it means to be placed. God has provided for each of us a place to exist, a place to live and move and have our being. It ought to be good. Yet we humans have a tendency to destroy places. First we destroy the places of others. In order to expand our place or make our place better fit the imagined standard we think we deserve, we take and take and take from others until their place is no longer good. We destroy places for future generations. Eventually, all that destruction leads us to destroy our own place.
I was placed on this farm. I have never lived on it, have in fact moved from and lived in dozens of places. But the farm has been a constant in my life, a constant good, a solid, immovable place for me to return to and experience goodness. I would not be who I am without that goodness in my life. In 1776, Joshua Davis did more than establish a farm. He established me.