Repost: And So This Is Christmas

For Newtown

In the wake of the Paris shooting, I posted about not wanting to leave my garden. And now, with the shooting massacre in San Bernardino, CA, I may never want to leave my garden. Ever.

Lately, it seems as if we are all visitors to some macabre carnival. “Round and round and round she goes, where the next mass shooting will be, nobody knows.”

What we do know, sadly, is that there will most certainly be another mass shooting. What we do know, horrifically, is that words like “lockdown” and “active shooter” are becoming common. What we do know, tragically, is that the men and women whom we elect to do something are openly choosing to do nothing.

For Boston

It feels inappropriate to write about gardening at this moment — and while words of flowers, like the falling WordPress snow, may bring a sense of ordinary comfort, there are so many other things that need to be said, things that have been said before.

So I’ve looked through the archives of this blog to see if there’s something I’ve posted before that’s as relevant today as it was when it was first written.  (The two photos above are from previously posted remembrances to the victims of Newtown, CT, and Boston, MA.)

What follows is a piece that appeared in the days following a mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut — not even the deaths of children could move elected officials to do a single thing.  Imagine if it had!  Imagine the lives that might still be with us today!

I do not mean to stray from the garden path — always a risky thing to do, especially with a gardening blog — but as Margaret Atwood wrote in The Handmaid’s Tale:

“I’m sorry there is so much pain in this story. I’m sorry it’s in fragments, like a body caught in crossfire or pulled apart by force. But there is nothing I can do to change it. I’ve tried to put some of the good things in as well. Flowers, for instance, because where would we be without them?”

Santa 2

This is not the post I planned for today. I originally wanted to write something funny about one of my favorite holiday films, Christmas In Connecticut, or poke fun at myself for crying over Christmas carols, like Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home).”

Today, though, I have a need to write a long post (my apologies) about a very different Christmas in Connecticut, a very different Christmas in America — and the idea that I, and I think most of us, cannot stop crying — with or without Christmas carols. For me, the overwhelming sadness is just below the skin. It doesn’t take much — the news, a moment of silence, an overheard conversation — to unleash a flood of tears.


I also find my sadness has woven itself between anger and confusion. To reference another classic film, Network, I want to do as Howard Beale instructed: “I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’”

And there is the crux of the issue. Since the incident in Connecticut, so many of us have asked the same question, “What’s happening in this country?” The truth is, we all know what’s happening. In fact, it’s been happening for so long and without any results that all we have left is our anger and fallow fields. Personally, I’ve been angry since George W. Bush’s first presidency.

Since starting this blog, I have tried very hard to keep politics out of the posts — and I will do my best now. My first draft, though, was complete vitriol. I walked away from the keyboard, and upon my return have decided to contain myself — at least a little.

What I want more than anything right now, right this very minute, is some time in the garden — to think, to dig, to process, to move, to understand. It’s December, which is not an optimal time to be in the garden — but lessons learned in the garden are timeless, regardless of the season or the circumstance.


Let’s begin with the soil. It’s the foundation of all good and healthy growth — and there is a problem with America’s soil. We all know it. We all sense it. It feels and smells depleted of nutrients and organic matter — and yet, we all feel helpless or powerless or reluctant to amend it.

Ignore it long enough and see what develops. Weeds. Pests. Fungus. Blight.

That’s why the head gardeners in the land must create policies that balance basic gardening principles with overall garden wellness. The time has come for a sensible gun control policy. We, as a society, can no longer afford to fall back into the usual political posturing and caving into the wants of special interest groups. Surely, we can come up with something that protects Americans’ right to bear arms with the common sense that a weapon suited for a combat zone should not be one of those arms.

Before I actively began to garden, I did a lot of reading and research. I think we all did and continue to do so. It’s important to know the characteristics of plants — do they prefer sun or shade or a bit of dappled sunlight? Do they bloom in May or July? Are they suitable for my climate zone?

better homes and gardens

That’s what we do for plants — and so it boggles my mind that individuals in some states can purchase guns and unlimited ammunition without a background check. I can’t even purchase an over-the-counter cold remedy without showing my drivers license.

There’s also the issue of invasive plant species — anyone who has tried bamboo should have an idea of how quickly a clump can easily become an out-of-bounds forest.

It’s the same idea with weapons. It’s possible for an individual to leave his home state (which has strict gun control legislation) for a neighboring state (which has not-so-strict gun control legislation), make a purchase, and then transport that weapon back to his home state. Sounds like an invasive issue to me.

I only wish my same sex marriage license could so easily cross state lines. So much for love conquering all, I guess.

Let’s say that a garden is neglected, leaving open the possibility of greater problems. Take one aphid, for example — just don’t turn your back on that aphid or you’ll have an infestation. When it comes to pest control, gardeners can take one of two routes: a completely organic approach or one that requires some chemicals. Either way, gardeners have to follow the directions and monitor how, where, and when any products are used. This helps to maximize treatment.

So when we begin the talk on sensible gun control, there also needs to be the talk about mental health and psychiatric care in this country. There are so many, many people in need of high-quality, long-term, and even residential treatment, as well as medication, the usage of which needs to be supervised in conjunction with counseling — but how far will insurance and affordability and access go?

What Child Is This

Our land is actually a community garden. At least that’s what I understand these words to mean: “This land is your land, this land is my land. . .” That’s why it’s so disheartening when some member gardeners do the garden a disservice.

The news media has done a wonderful job of bringing the news story to us — non-stop. I’m not saying they shouldn’t report it, but I have a feeling the people in Newtown would like some privacy to mourn. But each news show has given the story its own theme music, stylish graphics, and non-stop chatter from reporters.

The nightmare is now entertainment and a ratings grabber. Each time a newsperson uses the phrase, “One of the worst school shootings ever,” I cringe. First, because the statement indicates that there is more than one school shooting to use as a comparison. Second, because I fear they have just drawn a line in the sand for the next shooter.

And let’s not forget video games, movies, the Internet, and television. Thanks to them, we — children included — are given a steady diet of violence and disrespect. Many reality shows, such as “Amish Mafia” and “Jersey Shore,” have turned rude and crass behavior into the new normal. In order to be shocking and “entertaining,” violence and outlandish behavior need to become more graphic. Just look at the violence in an old James Cagney film and compare it to what is seen today in our living rooms — or even in the bedrooms of many children.

Angels We Have Heard On High

As a result of this gardening neglect, opportunistic pests have been allowed to thrive, allowed to spin webs of ignorance, rudeness, and lack of civility. I am referring to a shopper I heard in a local box store, crowded with holiday shoppers and children.

I was a few aisles away when I heard his gravelly voice yelling into a cell phone, presumably to his wife: “Where’s the f!@#$n layaway. I’ve been all over this f!@#$n store and I can’t find the f!@#$n layaway.” No one, including myself, did anything to stop him or correct him. Instead, we allowed him to speak that way out of fear. I’m not proud of my reaction — but this is the state of our garden, overgrown and jungle-like.

What’s a home gardener to do? After all, we can’t have a community garden without a community. I want to know that I’m safe in my garden, my workplace, my mall, my school, my bank, my movie theater . . .

Let’s be honest: the garden can be a scary, untamed place — more so because there are so many variables working against you, and chances are the head gardeners won’t provide too much assistance to make your tasks easier. To establish your garden, it’s probably best to take charge of your plot of land, no matter how large or small.

The first step is to make sure to create a fertile, nutrient-rich environment, where tender young shoots can flower and flourish. In doing so, you’ll have to remain vigilant to keep pests and diseases at bay — even if it means making difficult decisions, such as refusing to purchase products that do nothing but poison your plants.

I also find it’s important to talk to your plants. It keeps them healthy, and I believe they tend to reach higher. When you do talk them, be sure to celebrate their beauty and strength, as well as warn them of the dangers lurking in the garden. You know the dangers — the things that seek to nibble at the stems and leaves, ultimately devouring them of their essence.

Christmas Ornament

You should probably also be mindful of the intruders. Speak up and let them know that you do not appreciate the toxic goods which they make readily available. These products are often packaged to appeal to a young, impressionable market, but be wary of the skull and crossbones. That logo is never good.

Lastly, be sure to tell the head gardeners what you want and need for your garden. That’s the responsibility they accepted when we elected them to that position. There is no greater lobbying group than the American people — I mean, gardeners.

It seems that there is no Christmas carol that holds more meaning this year than the lyrics written by another human being who was prematurely taken from us because of violence, John Lennon.

Have a very Merry Christmas,

And a Happy New Year,

Let’s hope it’s a good one,

Without any fear.

20 thoughts on “Repost: And So This Is Christmas

  1. I fee so sad. I was sad prior to reading your blog, Kevin, because of the present plight of the world. Now, my eyes are filled with both tears and with anger. What’s MY problem? Why have I joined with the choir out there tsk-tsking the headlines. “So sad, crazy world, what can we do?” …and DOING nothing.

    You’ve pointed out, quite eloquently, that there’s plenty we can do. We can call, write, torment our Congresspeople — let them know “we’re not gonna take it anymore.” The pen IS mightier than the sword. Flooding our newspapers with letters is a step in the right direction.

    Sadness and anger are meaningless without action. What have I done? Where’s my “pen?” Bring in the topic of education, close to my heart, and I’m on my feet. I’ll protest anywhere, write letters, make phone calls. Why have I done nothing on the topic of terrorism, gun control? Tsk, tsk. God weeps.

    Thanks to you, Kevin, I’m on my feet again. Bless you, my friend. Miss you!

  2. I love that you tagged this with the word “rant.” We all need to stand up and rant a lot more, and very loudly. San Bernardino is in my backyard, and this week has been exhausting. I haven’t slept well, not from fear, but just a feeling of hyper-awareness and deep sadness. I’ve watched more television this week than the last six months, and shouldn’t, but can’t stop. I am weary of repeating conversations and having questions that just never get answered. From my perspective we just have our understanding of civil liberties all bungled up. I just don’t understand the NRA and those who have fear of the government to the extent that they’re willing to hold onto the existing gun laws without any willingness to examine how the current situation doesn’t in any way mirror what our “founding fathers” had in mind. I just don’t see how we can be so divided on this topic. And from there so many other things flow. I’m profoundly disappointed in the way the Administration and most, if not all, current candidates are tap dancing all over the place but not taking a strong stand against ISIS. I don’t know that I really know what they should do, but we don’t even sound strong and united. It’s late here and I can feel myself rambling. You’ve said it all quite brilliantly, as you always do my friend. I so appreciate how thoughtful and deep you go in times like this. I wish we were neighbors. I think you have a lot to share and I’d love to hear more from you! 🙂

    • Hi Debra. I would LOVE to be your neighbor! Imagine the conversations — we could solve all of the world’s problems! I was recently talking to a friend who also happens to be in law enforcement. Our talk turned to ISIS. My view is this: shame on us! We’ve had at least 15 years — if not more — to understand why young men join gangs. After working in secondary education, I’ve talked to countless teenagers about the disconnect they feel from their families and communities. In gangs, they are able to receive a sense of respect, power, hope, understanding. The gang becomes their family. Sadly, we live in a world where parents work multiple jobs to keep their heads above water, where children are showered with every conceivable electronic device, but have little human interaction. There’s a price that we are all paying. ISIS, I feel, is just a gang on a larger scale, one with better weapons and better skill at social media use. I think we must do more to give young people a sense of hope and purpose — when they either perceive or are told that they have no valuable place in society, that they do not have a place at the table, that they will not do as well as their parents, that they will work and work and still not have anything to show, they will be easily pulled into the scheme of those who want to change the world. It’s so complicated. Be well and be safe!

      • Kevin, you so clearly articulate how lack of opportunity leads to hopelessness and makes young people, in particular, vulnerable to gangs of all “stripes.” You’re right, too, labeling ISIS a “fortified” gang,. I never thought of it in those terms, but it really is. It’s just unbelievable to me that political egos and greed make it impossible for us as a nation to come together and focus on creating positive solutions towards unblocking the barriers to that hope. I have worked in a university for 15 years, and students today are struggling with their future MUCH more than I heard from them 15 years ago. And what I’ve noticed is that it’s harder and harder for me to encourage them without feeling completely insincere. We are definitely living in complex times. I hope that you and Joe have wonderful holidays. Maybe we can all put aside the concerns of the world for just a few days this month and be light in spirit! I wish you that. 🙂

      • Hi Debra. Always great to hear from you — and it’s interesting to hear your own observations. Wouldn’t it be nice if the people in charge could ask what we’re seeing on the ground? Wouldn’t it be nice if they could table their own egos for the sake of the country’s ego? I wonder if I can order up some ghosts to make a Christmas Eve visit to some of these folks? Have a wonderful holiday! 🙂

  3. I know, “What is this world coming too?” The issues and incidents are growing without control, but how does one get a handle on this? You mention about unstable people, “mental health and psychiatric care”, but there is no way to reign on those folks intent on harm a suitable way. Controlling guns is beyond a solution too. I agree on the background checks, but criminals/terrorists won’t be the ones checked. In Costs Rica, there were no guns allowed in country, yet Nicaraguans came across the border guns a blazing to successfully rob a bank. Right in front of me, no less. I am not sure guns will ever have the breaks put on them. Good post and re-post.

    • Hi Donna. I agree that the solution must be multi-pronged. Action may not solve everything, but inaction solves nothing. The world has always been a scary place — think of World War II and the Cold War. The 24-hour newsfeed and the randomness of terror seems to make things more chaotic. Glad you enjoyed the post. Be well!

  4. We gentle folks must find solace in our gardens and the places where we feel safe. I learned a decade ago, that although I vote, I have little influence on how the US is governed. When politics/politicians are based in greed/power, we the people have only one mission: to live a clean life, with purpose and passion, to duck when the world assumes crazy, and find beauty in every passing day. We little people owe this to our world, as long as we live.

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