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How You Spend Your Days Is How You Spend Your Life, and Other Realizations While Looking at Rot

Posted Sep 12 2010 4:33am
The pink dawn exploding across the mourning sky of September 11, I rode my bike to the community garden, a place where I expected to find peace and life.  My worldview has changed greatly over these last nine years, partly due to the plethora of books I've read such as the excellent What is The What , by Dave Eggers, about the Lost Boys of Sudan, and I now realize that truly inconceivable atrocities happen every day as a way of life.

And so, my reaction to something seemingly small appears trivial.  Insignificant.  But when I got to the garden, I felt slapped in the face every where I turned by death. 

Death, death, and more death.

Oh, sure, there was the overwhelmingly successful greens growing table, from which we've already harvested for the food pantry even though these greens should not even be growing yet in our climate.  Through the daily attention of an 81-year-old farmer and  the clever addition of a shade screen, however, they are.  And that is not the only vibrant spot of life.  There is much to admire.  And, frankly, I've shown you that side of the garden many times already.  I like to focus on that, on the positive. But I also want to give you complete honesty, and frankly, our garden has the same major problem that gardens everywhere has.  Apathy.

A handful of beds in our garden seem abandoned. Unloved.  Uncared for.  Unappreciated.  As a result, these beds are filled with rotting food.  In fact, I think we could have literally doubled our Ton for Hunger food pantry donations (and met our 2010 goal) if food in personal plots had not gone to waste.


Other by-products of this rotting food include the proliferation of bugs and the potential attraction of other animal life that would thereby affect the entire garden, plus the open invitation to theft since it appears as if our produce is not valued enough to harvest.  

What becomes quite clear is that being part of a community garden means that members have a responsibility to each other, not only to mulch around their beds and to volunteer three measly hours in an entire year, but to keep their beds productive and harvested (all as required in the contracts they willingly sign, and that more than 25 families on the waiting list would be happy to do).  What also becomes quite clear is that rules not enforced are worth nothing.  I'd rather have no rules than ones that mean nothing.

I'm trying to focus on feeding people.  In fact, I'm now off the community garden board of directors ( I had agreed to be on it for a year) and am specifically focused on outreach to encourage the creation and expansion of more gardens with dedicated donation programs to those in need. A handful of people, some not even garden members, have volunteered to serve as stewards of the food pantry beds at our community garden, and my friend Sally is running that program now, along with my extraordinarily dedicated friend, Bob, who had not planted so much as a radish in his life just a year ago and whose food pantry beds are consistently the most productive.

I've been asked specifically to help with Garden Isaiah again, a truly beautifully-designed garden at a local temple that is 100% dedicated to feeding those in need and is in continual need itself of stewardship and expertise, although a hard-working, generous team of leaders has emerged since last I reported on this.

I don't know why I keep getting called back to that garden:

* Perhaps because a bench dedicated to my friend is in it, and I feel a responsibility to her and her family. 

* Perhaps because I know what love Roy put into that garden, and I understand his need to step back so that others could step forward.  (See Making Space So Others Can Serve here.)

* Perhaps because I've seen how a woman named Peggy stepped up to do things she had never done and continues to do them with such grace.  

* Perhaps simply because Robert rode his bike to the community garden yesterday morning and asked me.  

* Perhaps because I know I have so much yet to learn.  

* Perhaps for other reasons I don't yet understand.

I'm not questioning it right now.  I'm just answering the call by working it directly into my life.  This past Labor Day Weekend, for the second year in a row, my daughters and I did our "life pies."  These are visual representations of how we want to spend the limited resource we each have of 168 hours a week.  This originated from a quote I heard once that said, "How you spend your days is how you spend your life" and the realization that we could create the lives of our dreams if we, first, defined them, and then actively accommodated the time needed for them into each and every day. (I got a particular kick out of the fact that my younger daughter built in time specifically for "thinking."  And my older daughter's life pie reminds me of the recent World Cup game schedule wheel!)

We plot this out on paper, and then transfer it to actual pies so that we can taste the sweetness of life.  Mine was lemon merengue this year.  My older daughter and I were, again, shocked to discover that even after work/school, sleep, chores, and all the other daily non-negotiables are considered, there are hours left in the day to make dreams come true.   Last year, as a result of this exercise, I stopped using Facebook because that time was more valuable to me elsewhere.   I also watch little to no television, and I attend as few meetings as possible (or try to double-up so that meetings and exercise or meetings and food pantry harvests happen at the same time).

This year, I've stopped calling my food growing efforts "gardening," because that sounds like a hobby and it's not a hobby to me.  I'm calling it food production and food management now.  And I have about 8 hours a week in my life pie for food production beyond my home garden.  I will be giving three hours of that to our community garden, and three hours to Garden Isaiah for the next few weeks, until the fall crops are in.  The other two hours go to all the other random requests that come in for advice about new school, home, community and other gardens.

I have to focus on this.  On planting seeds and feeding people.  Because if I take my eyes off of this, I see decay, neglect, and far worse things all over the world.  And I feel rotten.
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