My garden by Judy Palmer
It's threatening rain again today here in the St. Croix River Valley. We've had too much rain and too much heat in the last couple of weeks. This spring I was given a large garden plot, and since that time I've become the queen of weather-watchers, worrying about such things as mildew on my sunflower leaves, tomato blight, and how the rain will affect my cucumbers. My garden is nestled in a rolling meadow so beautiful it takes one's breath away, but the word beautiful, so often overused by people describing this little corner of the world, doesn't even begin to catch its essence. This meadow, a study in pastels against a vivid green background and a pale blue sky, is a place where gentle breezes always seem to blow, silence is only broken by the songs of birds, life abounds in all its forms, and all is nurtured and illuminated by a gentle Northern sun. It's a place of perfect peace and solitude, a place where the meaning of life becomes obvious and quiet contemplation is still possible.
Mark Twain, when describing the America of his time, said, "It is a civilization that has destroyed the simplicity and repose of life; replaced its contentment, its poetry, its romance-dreams with the money-fever, sordid ideals, vulgar ambitions and the sleep which does not refresh; it has invented a thousand useless luxuries and turned them into necessities; it has created a thousand vicious appetites and has satisfied none of them; it has dethroned God and set up a shekel in His place." His words are even more true today, and as I work in my garden, I think about all that we've lost. When did money become the most important thing in life, trumping love, honor, community, trust, dignity and self respect? I don't know the answer to this question. All I know is that quietly, over the years of my life, acquiring baubles was at first seen as fun, then a game of competition with our neighbors, then a standard that defined our worth as human beings, and then an end in itself--the only thing that mattered.
In my garden, a place of silence and introspection, it's easier to gather my thoughts. I mourn the death of my country, as we all do, and I think about what will come next. This country was created by theft and genocide and built on slave labor. We coasted along on delusions for over two centuries, but in the end, karma is catching up to us. It's very obvious to me that many Americans will not survive the coming years--we've lost most of the skills that ensure survival. I see neighbors and friends on both sides of the political spectrum that are full of fear of "the other," whether the "other" lives across the globe or is the Republican living right next door. But I wonder, under all of their blustering, bullying and rhetoric, whether that fear is really the fear of creatures who have lost their ability to take care of themselves. How many of them could still produce their own food, make a simple garment for themselves, or make simple repairs to their possessions? When money is the most important thing, the skills of self-sufficiency are quickly lost. Fear of "the other" is simply a mask that hides the real fear--that we have become empty shells, unable to achieve grace or self-sufficiency in the most basic way.
Remember when we were the richest country in the world? We could have created a utopian society back then...creating wealth, peace and security for even the poorest of our citizens and by example, spreading the concepts of equality and self determination over the globe. Instead, we chose to travel the low road, spreading our brand of fear, greed and paranoia both inside and outside our borders. Now we're seeing the end result of the fundamental flaw in the basic premises on which our society was built. But there is another path.
A few years ago, a disturbed man shot ten Amish girls, then committed suicide in a small Pennsylvania school. It was a tragedy layered on top of an earlier tragedy; the disturbed man had lost a daughter ten years earlier and could not get past his grief. Rather than reacting with hatred and vindictiveness, the Amish community became a model of grace, forgiveness, and compassion. They did not parade their grief in front of the cameras; in fact, they turned the press away. They reached out to comfort the murderer's blameless family. Amish mourners outnumbered the non-Amish at the killer's funeral. In a society that worships vengeance and loves to point the finger of blame, their reaction was unheard of.
The reaction of Norwegian society to their recent tragedy is similar in nature. I read an article by Robert Koehler last week called "The Sky is Weeping." He described the Norwegian's desire "to stand--though wounded, though shattered by grief--for their highest values." Mr. Koehler feels, as I do, that the sky was weeping on the day that the Twin Towers fell. Imagine how different life would be now if we had reacted to that day with the best, rather than the worst, within us. We would never have wasted our national treasure on the wars that are bankrupting our society. If only we had taken the high road then, the villains of the Bush administration, those men who obtained their life blood by selling death, greed and selfishness, would have been rendered powerless and their messages would have been made moot.
But, as I learn the secret lessons of my garden, I know that there is a season for everything, and that the time for forgiveness, understanding and self-reflection is long past. Because we chose not to seek the true meaning of the event at that time, we will have to live with the immutable laws of justice. As I follow the hollow, strident, and ultimately meaningless political rhetoric of our time, it becomes obvious that at best, our country will lose the wealth we've worshipped for so long. At worst, by following the craven ideas of our corrupt leaders, we'll be the catalyst for another world war. But either way, it's long past time for people of good will to put away fears and take action, first to protect ourselves and our families, and then, by our every action, to be the beacons of a saner, cleaner and more dignified and courageous way to live.
Human beings are unique in that we have no real enemies in nature. We have only other human beings to fear...we are both predator and prey. We forget sometimes that we are social animals and if we don't protect the pack, we will go down with it. Having let the predators dominate for so long, it will take great courage to stand up for what we know is true. But I believe that the simple act of standing up is the only way to fight the cowards and bullies that are now controlling our destiny. Looking evil in the eye and rejecting those who practice it is the only way to take away the power of the small men who practice it. What the Amish and the people of Norway did was not a passive action. They are not, simply put, letting evil dictate their lives, nor malevolence determine their futures.
As I work in the soil, the source of life and the passageway that will take us back to another realm, I think about both life and death. Death is not my ultimate fear. I see it as simply a transition to the dimension from which we have come, the knowledge of which is buried deep within our subconscious. Living without my birthrights as a human being--free will, love, a sense of charity and justice, is a living death--a much worse fate. In the solitude and quiet of my garden, my thoughts are at first like a tangled skein of wool. One by one the threads are drawn from the skein and finally, I learn the garden's lesson...by working the soil and caring for the life within it, including my own, I know that I'm alive, why I was born and what I believe in my soul to be true. No one can take that knowledge away from me--no one--and I will use it to create a better world for those who come after me.