- Therapeutic Horticulture as a Healing Tool for Veterans, Dr. Cherie Eichholz, PhD Dissertation, UPenn, Spring 2020
There is something really special about gardening. You get lost in it. Working the soil. Going to the nursery, creating designs, and then sitting there in this place you created. You can just sit there - with a coffee in the morning or a beer in afternoon - just watching the bees and butterflies and bugs, watching as different plants mature at different times. I never thought I could just sit there and be. I never thought this could give me so much joy.
- Wounded Vietnam Marine combat veteran Frank Corcoran, quoted in Dr. Eichholz's PhD dissertation
It's become very evident from polls that most Americans feel the country is in real trouble. I'm one of them. I'm a Vietnam veteran; I don't suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but I do have a whopping case of Survival Guilt and I do feel I've lived my whole post-Vietnam life in an effort to heal from what is these days called The Moral Wound. That is, once I began to educate myself about the war I participated in as a kid, the scales began to fall from my eyes, to use the metaphor applied to the Biblical soldier named Saul who became the disciple Paul. Since I was 20-years-old, this learning process has never stopped, and I'm now 73.
As a kid, I volunteered to use skills taught to me by the US Army against the Vietnamese who were defending their country. It's that simple. Later, I taught myself photography and practiced it on trips to Central America during the Reagan Wars in the 1980s. The following lines from Salvadoran poet Claudia Lars have haunted me ever since:
I saw the masked men
Throwing truth into a well.
When I began to weep for it
I found it everywhere.
The civil unrest is still spreading and growing. And Donald Trump is acting more and more like a tyrant cornered in his palace. He'd like the 82nd Airborne and, perhaps, his own palace guard of uniformed psychopaths and 2nd Amendment militants to break up the protesting. There's a genre of Latin American tyrant novel devoted to exactly this kind of man; all the so-called Boom Writers felt obligated to write one. Some of the greats are The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Colombia), I The Supreme by Augusto Roa Bastos (Paraguay), The Peron Novel by Tomas Eloy Martinez (Argentina) and El Senor Presidente by Miguel Angel Asturias (Guatemala).
Observing Donald Trump at work, the founding fathers in their white powdered wigs must be looking down and scratching their heads. "What the f*ck!?" Jefferson must be muttering to his slave mistress Sally, "Who are these people who've taken over our little experiment?"
Not being one inclined to seek therapy, I don't know what the shrinks might call it, but my stress level these days has gone up the scale and over the edge. Since I'm not the type to react and fulminate on raw emotion, I've become a writer who can't write. Before I can run words together, I need some kind of experiential or intellectual grounding of understanding or at least enough understanding of what's going on that I can convince myself to take the plunge. Reading the paper and watching the news, I was feeling a bit like the proverbial deer in the headlights. Then I realized this was exactly what President Trump wanted and that he was reveling and dancing in the halls of the White House at my stymied condition. He seems to be that kind of sadistic rat. As with many others, this pissed me off.
Metaphors are great. As a writer, I live by them as wordsmiths have done since the beginning of time; they help us imagine we've got our minds around very complex and perplexing things. Everybody does it. And although he may not really understand what he's doing when he does it, our would-be tyrant president (I like referring to him as "Agent Orange") can take a tiny, insignificant element of life and flog it like a poet with a bludgeon until it represents, for some, an obnoxious, often racist truth applicable to the whole, complex nation of 300 million people. Complexity ignored and made simple-minded and self-serving; language used to obfuscate rather than to enlighten. His base, of course, loves it when he insults and beats up on liberals and leftists. Michael Moore is right: Good people underestimate him at their peril.
[My assistant, Charlie, who helps me make sense of the New York Times every morning, my scribblings evident on the Sports Section.]
So for my sanity I've decided to think globally and act locally. I can get so "local" that I do things like paint our house, clean up our yard and make a number of raised-bed gardens for tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and an assortment of greens we'll eat later. I love witnessing the growing process. I love taking the sprouted seedlings from my office/nursery and planting them in the garden, then to watch them "take" to the new environment and begin to grow into food-providing mature plants guided by mysterious biological instructions I'm ignorant of but, nevertheless, in awe of. Watching it all distracts the mind from the human political madness I read about every morning in The New York Times with a cup of coffee and my unlicensed service animal, Charlie. Consulting Charlie by rubbing his belly and watching my vegetables grow makes me appreciate the most basic and fundamental fact of life, something instrumental to the idea of reform:
Life wants to live.
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