We’ll Always Have Paris

Red Rose

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.

Lakeside Sand Pine Preserve

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.

For Newtown

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.

Terracotta Shards

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.

Jardin du Luxembourg

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.

30 thoughts on “We’ll Always Have Paris

  1. Thank you, Kevin, for your beautiful and heartfelt post. I am exactly in the middle of teaching 1984 and cannot begin to tell you how sad it is that I can make so many connections to the real world while I teach the novel. I wish I could just tell my students that it is all just science fiction. Sadly, I cannot.

    • Hi Lori. 1984 is one of my favorite novels. Each time I read it, I become more and more terrified. After reading it your comment, though, the book became a bit more terrifying because for the younger generation, constant surveillance is a way of life. They know no different. This is their normal.

  2. While all that happens around us, it only makes it happening here closer to reality. The reaction? Well, I did see both sides while in Europe. I saw the good and the bad Syrians. And what stuck with me… the bad. My next post mentions why too. What we can do about the refugees saddens me. While I know many need help, I also know we can’t keep our country safe either – just like France. The bad come right along with the good.

    • Hi Daniel. I think all we have is hope — but I do think that we have much more in common with one another than we realize. That’s why it’s important to have the dialogue. Be well.

  3. I’ve been focusing on gratitude this month. It became significantly more difficult a week ago. Gratitude for the little things at first seemed so insignificant as to almost seem insulting. But as I kept practicing naming my gratitude, I realized more and more that being grateful for the small and the basic, the fundamental and the mundane, was exactly how I could honor and appreciate.
    So thank you got this post. I’m thankful for people who still feel the outrage and shock and sorrow. And I’m hopeful we humans figure out this coexistence business before we lose ourselves.

  4. I often imagine spending all my days communing with nature behind my garden gate and closing ranks against all the noise and clatter. Sometimes I think that with age I’ve earned the right to retreat, but there are new little lives being born every day into this crazy world, and I feel a commitment to remain hopeful and to find joy anywhere I can. We need to stay engaged so that in mutual support of those aims we have a shot at making things better, at least in our own arenas. You express your thoughts so well, Kevin. I think that time in your garden pulling weeds is an excellent antidote against utter despair and provides opportunity to find balance. I am an Edith Piaf fan as well. I’ve never been to Paris, but I can imagine it’s an incredible city. I am confident it will rebound in time.

  5. Beautiful thoughts, Kevin. These past few days I’m also reminded how, as a grade-schooler in the 1950s, we had weekly “air raid drills” in which we were taught to crouch under our desks in the event of an attack by the Russians. Of course that was utterly ludicrous but the irony is that most of us kids actually thought that would keep us from getting hurt (that, or the “emergency fallout shelter” people were encouraged to set up in the basement of their wood-framed post-WW2 tract house). At the time, I never thought to ask my parents or adult relatives whether they worried or lived in fear of such things, and if so how they coped with it.

    • Hello M’Lady. I remember those drills. By the ’60s and ‘early ’70s, we had to stand in the hallway and face the hall. I remember going to some kind of health fair and picking up a pamphlet on how to survive a nuclear attack — and I saved it for years. Each generation, it seems, has had to worry about the end: Hitler conquering the world in the ’30s and ’40s; nuclear holocaust in the ’60s and ’70s; pandemic in the ’80s and ’90s; terrorism and all that it entails today. I think what has always helped is people helping people, people engaging with one another so that their small corner of the world could be a little better.

  6. I think many of us take comfort from our gardens when the world seems to be spinning out of control. The garden provides the perfect antidote — a place of natural beauty in which we are able to create exercise some element of control and create a type of order.

    • Hi Jean. I completely agree with you — and I think that may be the answer. Imagine being able to have people from different backgrounds and ideologies working together! I think we have so much more in common with one another than we have differences. I think at some point, we are all related and connected to one another. Hope all is well!

      • What a beautiful vision. Have you read Andrea Wulf’s Founding Gardeners? Wulf tells us that when the Constitutional Convention was deadlocked and on the verge of collapse, the delegates went off to spend a day at Bartram’s Garden, where they “could see how the manifold flora of each state thrived together, their branches intertwined in a flourishing horticultural union.” (p. 91) Two days later, the delegates reconvened and reached a compromise.

      • Jean — great reference! I actually reviewed that book when it was first published. A really wonderful work and a new way at looking at our nation’s history — and I think the idea could still work today. I think it’s time we start seeing one another as people.

  7. Hi Kevin, lately I have become more adventurous, I have ventured out of the gate and on to the road, Hobbit style. My garden was neglected as a result and was put on the back shelf of my things to do. When the world shakes however, and evil escapes, I find myself running back to my hole. Searching for my quiet space, my peaceful space that was my garden. I find myself digging, weeding, hurrying to make it perfect again, so that I can have a place where I can escape the horrors. It doesn’t always work, some things are just too horrifying, and the only thing that can save me is a spaceship. I doubt the entire world, nowhere to go, nothing the do, but wait for your fate. I still don’t see the goodness, not enough has happened to make me soften my guard. Your post has helped me though, I can see that I am not alone. Thank you.

    • Hi Graziella. Thank you for your comment. No, we’re not alone. I think there are plenty of us out there who are looking for comfort and security and some sort of order that makes sense to us — and some of us find it in a garden, for others it’s found in music or exercise, and for others it may be coloring. At the same time, though, we cannot ignore/forget that which makes us human — the need for meaningful connections. Enjoy the time in your garden, but find joy in the adventure, as well. 🙂

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