With words choking my throat and tears stinging in my eyes, I simply could not watch the news continue to stream in about the cop killings in Dallas. My stepson, Charles, who has been in my life since he was a teenager and who is an incredibly courageous, kind person, is a law enforcement officer in Florida. I kept thinking of him, and his wife, Penny, and of Grace, his daughter, and Robert, his son, about how fragile their normal truly is. There was much about the work I did with ECF before going to work for Ascension that simply did not fit. However, it was one of the true privileges of my whole working experience as an adult to serve with Ron Byrd, an African American priest from Michigan, and to facilitate training at the parish where he grew up in Inkster, MI, a traditionally African American parish. As Ferguson was unfolding, he and I were travelling together and I sat and listened to him describe the anguish of raising a son who is always so at risk. I carry Ron and his family in my heart, as much as I carry my stepson and his family. This morning, the horror was unbearable.
About to explode out of my skin, I did what I have learned carries me through horror. I went out to work in the garden. A good part of my work all summer long involves weeding. I have written elsewhere how the parable of the good seeds and weed (Mt 13) has become incredibly real to me this year. The weeds got ahead of us in the garden and recent efforts to open spaces for our plantings to grow have helped me see how incredibly hard it is to tell good from bad, to avoid pulling up that which you wanted to tend to and protect. I have to be slow, careful, very focused. In the hot Alabama sun that beats down without mercy, it is hard work.
This morning, I was working on a flower bed that shows what a neophyte I am in the matter of gardening. I had a space, I had some flowers I knew I liked, and with only minimal “big picture planning”, I began to put in plants. Right now, I have roses, blackeyed susans, angelonias, phlox, gerbera daisies and hydrangeas in bloom. It looks a little schizophrenic – certainly, it isn’t the carefully composed flowerbed that results from a garden master plan. But it is my pride and joy and I pounce on even the smallest weed when it’s time to weed that bed in the loose weeding rotation I have set up for myself. I have learned to pull gently at the most common weed in my garden, trying to get as much of the root structure out, along with the plant.
I worked with one that was maybe 3 inches tall. Pulling slowly, I watched the tap root emerge and then, when I thought I was about done, a lateral root started coming out of the ground too. By the time I was done, I realized this three inch little plant had about 15 inches of root (not even capillaries, root root). How long did the root structure grow before that little plant came out of the ground? When I think about the issues we are struggling with, I ask myself, how deep and webbed and complex is the part of these issues we can’t even see? How much patience does it take to bring to light and then work through those parts of our communal life that are choking the very life out of us?
The garden is teaching me some answers, and all of them involve hard work, even when the sun beats down with such ferocity and the air is so thick with humidity it’s hard to breathe. Resilience. Strength. The capacity to be filled with great joy and much hope in response to the tiniest flowers and tenderest new growth. Acceptance that I know next to nothing and am always just starting to learn. Keeping straight the difference between resting and quitting. Not quitting…just. not. quitting. None of us.