These days, I find that I need a garden more than ever. It’s the one place that makes sense to me on days that no longer make sense. It’s the one place where I can find comfort on those days when I’m overwhelmingly sad — and these are those days.
Paris. Mali. Beirut. Kenya. Syria. A barren stretch of the Egyptian desert.
These days, there is so much sadness — and I find myself wondering: what is it with humans? I mean, I understand my plants, but I really don’t get people.
Each day in the garden, I see life and death. A hawk swoops down to grab a fish in its talons. A parade of ants feast upon an aphid infestation. Small insects become ensnared in a spider’s web.
Death is a part of life. In the case of fungi, death even leads to life.
And as sad as this cycle is, I’m able to accept it. One animal kills another animal for nourishment — and that makes sense.
What doesn’t make sense are the terrorist attacks. Or the mass shootings that seem to be a weekly occurrence in this country. Or the nightly shootings in American cities.
Each morning when I turn on the news, I’m given a tally of the most recent fatal shootings in Miami-Dade County. In one northwest Miami high school, the seventh teenager to die as as result of gun violence this year has been laid to rest. Each night, I wonder and worry which resident of that county has pulled the short straw — because someone is most definitely going to be shot and killed in this American war zone.
No other species inflicts such pain and heartache and violence on one another.
This human vs. human stuff is really for the birds — and I mean no offense to the birds out there. This human vs. human stuff is killing for the sake of killing, for the sake of some twisted ideology, for the sake of greed, jealousy, hatred . . .
I really don’t want this post to be a political, religious rant. I just want to say that when it all becomes overwhelming, I want to retreat into the garden and never set foot beyond the gate.
I have a friend who taught elementary school for decades in a very poor community. When days were stressful, she would take some time after the students had gone home to refill their Elmer’s Glue bottles. It was mindless, yet sensible. Simple, yet necessary. Tedious, yet therapeutic.
I get that. It’s on these headline-intrusive days that I especially like to weed. To dig. To mow. To relish the most ordinary sounds in an ordinary life. To feel that when the world is spinning beyond my control, I have done a small, small thing to restore order in my own world.
When I look back on my 52 years, I can honestly say that we have always been at war. My grandfather would have turned 100 this year, and when I consider his years, I can say for much of his century, we have been at war. To look back even further, we have always been at war — with fellow citizens, with other countries. The names of the enemies change and the weapons get bigger, but it is always, always war.
I wonder if — in the words of George Orwell in 1984 — this “perpetual war” is the price we pay for being human, for having a brain that can be persuaded to make the illogical seem logical, for making the unreasonable seem reasonable.
I admit that in the days following the Paris attacks, I experienced that knee-jerk reaction to close borders, reject refugees, to ignore the basic principles on which this nation was founded, to be fearful, to be angry, to forget that the majority of people in the world just want to be happy, to live in peace, to laugh, to eat, to grow a garden, to stroll in peace.
Paris, like all great cities, is a city built for strolling. Long before “lockdown” became a frequently used word, Joe and I strolled along the Seine, passing book sellers and cafes and local gardens, like the Jardin du Luxembourg (pictured above), and meeting local Parisians and other travelers. In these extraordinarily ordinary moments of conversation and observation, it’s easy to see the beauty of our species.
I’m now happy to say that my reactive side has subsided, and my more thoughtful proactive side has grown.
Following any tragedy, we are treated to stories of absolute heroism — and this week has been no different. The worst of times often brings out the best in people — and at this rate, goodness must surely outweigh evil.
And there it is. Most people are good. I have to believe that, otherwise I would never, ever leave my garden. As tempting as that sounds to many gardeners, we are social beings and we need one another. We need to talk and laugh with one another. We need to support and celebrate one another. We need to garden and eat with one another. We need to laugh and sing with one another. We need to honor all those things that we have in common — because that’s a far better place to start rather than with our differences.
It’s like the lyrics from the classic song, “La Vie En Rose”: When you press me to your heart, I’m in a world apart, a world where roses bloom.
As the days continue to blend from one to the next — and arrests are made and politicians weigh in on what “we” need to do — I’d like to offer this song by Edith Piaf. It’s one of my favorites — a song that is romantic, that makes you sit just a bit closer to the person beside you; a song that is as synonymous with Paris as it is to life in my garden.