25 September 2011

Lessons from my Garden

#1 Patience: The plants will grow. Let them. Water them. Visit them, but not too often. Don’t harvest too soon, even though it is so tempting to pull up carrots to check if they’re ready yet.

#2 Carpe Diem: Harvest before the rodents serve themselves, because the rodents can sense our thoughts: “I’ll harvest this tomorrow when it’s just that much more ripe.” (rebuttal to Lesson #1)

#3 Timing: Plant too soon, and the frost will claim the seedlings. Plant too late and there won’t be enough time for the fruits to ripen.

#4 Defense: This year, I worried far too much about infiltration from footed animals, and not enough from those with wings.

#5 Space: Don’t underestimate the space plants will need. (See also: volunteer yellow-pear tomato that currently is taking up half the walkway in addition to 3/4 of the pea / bean bed.)

#6 Plant More Flowers: You can’t have enough, and the phrase “too many” does not apply to flowers. Plant flowers that remind you of others (i.e., delphinium and sweet peas for Gram, roses and cosmos for Arden, and daffodils for Madeleine) because you will, indeed, feel their presence among the blooms.

#7 Wonder: Be amazed that those tiny seeds know exactly what to do, and when, and how.

#8 Contemplate: Wish that certain aspects of human life were as clearly defined as the roles of seeds. Rejoice that most of them aren’t.

01 September 2011

Playing the Small Parts

Last week, I read a painful update on the Tucson shootings about the mother of Christina-Taylor Green, the girl who was born on 9/11/01 and who was killed in Tucson this past January when Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot. I didn’t watch the memorial service in Tucson for Christina-Taylor and the others, but I did read this excerpt from our president’s speech there: “We are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better.”

I look at my own girls, whose birthdates straddle Christina-Taylor’s, and I am overwhelmed by her family’s loss. And then I remember all the families of those killed on 9/11. And the families of those Americans killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since then. I think of the families of Afghans and Iraqis killed and I feel for them and can’t help but try to understand the depth of their losses, too. Taliban, al Qaeda, or not, their families mourn them just as deeply as we mourn our own. And although bin Laden is dead, I still will not celebrate.

I recall feeling great hope after 9/11’s initial shock and devastation cleared. I remember thinking that maybe this event would be the catalyst that would give our nation the focus and unity required to move beyond status quo, that would take us to a new height – and maybe even to a level of compassion that can only be achieved after devastating loss. I can see that the hope I felt was na├»ve at best, and now it seems as foolish as a child’s dream of playing in the NBA.

I spent much of the summer frustrated about our nation’s stagnation in debt, and Congress’s short-sighted and self-congratulatory “solutions,” which could be likened to pissing into the wind and being too stupid to realize that it’s their own piss splattering on their faces – as well as on ours and the future generations’.

And then, the media frenzy that will attempt to honor the tenth anniversary of 9/11 began to rear its head, in many forms: some well-written and poignant, others sensationalized and sappy. Honoring the dead is a necessary rite. Supporting the survivors and bearing witness to the tragedy are essential. But I don’t need to see the towers fall again and again and again to do those things.

And just as I was beginning (again) to feel a bit disappointed in my perception of the State of the World, I read this and a few days later, this. And then a friend posted this on facebook. And what, with all that, 9/11, and Christina-Taylor, my boots were getting heavy, and I was forced take a long look at my own mortality and attempt to make some peace with it. Because really, my mortality and I, we are walking this path toward one another, every second getting closer. And there’s no way of denying that.

Last fall I attended two memorial services, one for my dear aunt, and another for a woman I’d met only once – the mother of one of my students. I was struck by the similar tones at each service: how these two women, above all else, were mothers and wives. Everything else that defined them was secondary. But their relationships with the people who needed them the most were the focus of their love and their lives. And those people knew it. They felt it. And all those whose lives they touched were better for it.

And just because these two women were mothers and wives above all else does not mean that they fit a stereotype. They were dynamic, educated, interesting people who made an effort to convey their love. It has nothing to do with feminism or the woman’s role in the family or society. They were extraordinary women. They were extraordinary people. One of the gravest mistakes of the women’s movement has been to underestimate the capacity of women to create love, and to miscalculate the value of the power of that love.

And so tonight, even though I had papers to grade and a house that’s been needing attention, a garden that’s needed tending and a sink full of dirty dishes, my daughters and I enjoyed an afternoon at their favorite place, the library, and dinner out.

I’ve realized a few things. There will always be work that can be taken home. There will always be more work to do. There will always be some place in the house that needs a thorough cleaning. The garden can often times thrive on neglect. And while those dishes never seem to wash themselves, I can still wish for the dish fairies to come and bless my sink.

But I’ll never, ever, get to go to traipse through the public library searching for (even) more horse books, or enjoy another pizza downtown at Bill’s with my daughters on September 1, 2011. And, yes, we somehow did find a whole new pile of books to enjoy. And of course, the pizza was damn good. But the company was even better.