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"One Day at a Time," Why the Earth Is My God, and My Thanksgiving Gift to You

Posted Nov 18 2012 8:01am
So, there I was, crouched in my garden yesterday nibbling arugula like a rabbit and thinking what a gift it was to discover the arugula--I had forgotten I planted it under that row cover.  And so it goes with seeds. We plant them every day in our lives, by our words and thoughts and actions, and we don't always know what will grow as a result.  

I was tired.  I had just finished an all-nighter as a chaperone at my older daughter's high school, where 70 students, pretty evenly split between boys and girls, spent 36 hours locked in the school on teams solving a real-world math-modeling problem.  About 500 schools around the world participate in this contest, where kids are learning that applied mathematics is challenging, necessary, and fun. (This was my second year doing this, as staying up all night with my daughter's boyfriend's mother, with whom I volunteered both times, has been a great way to get to know her better).  (I wrote about this contest last year--see Life Has No Lesson Plan .)  But then the beauty and simplicity of the sunrise as I drove home had gotten me thinking.

It has been a challenging year for me, perhaps the most yet, even more so than that 9/11 year.  The economy knocked the wind out of my 17-year-old business, and recovery has been slow as I have hit one locked gate after another, constantly requiring me to find new ways around barriers. My older daughter is applying to colleges, and dreams are hanging on by threads as the bitter reality of college debt hits home. Fallout from politics had strained a close relationship of mine for years, although I recently realized it wasn't about politics at all but the resurfacing of a childhood memory where angry communications had been damaging. Some extended family health issues have taken a toll. And the headlines have been literally tearing me up (both pronunciations of that word work here), with Hurricane Sandy and that familiar feeling of helplessness (that drove me to write a book the last time I felt this way) slamming my soul.  

And so the need to plant seeds has been great, and I have scattered them everywhere, even tossing them out open windows.  And the healing effect of seeing that the seeds I planted grew into that arugula (and lord knows what else) cannot be overstated.  I know I can come across sometimes as a bit obsessed with my garden (and all the others where I dig in), but I want you to know that it is saving me, just as personal passions are saving people all around you every single day.  These are not idle pastimes. These are lifelines. May I suggest you ask people in your life about their passions at your holiday dinner this week, and listen.  Truly listen.

For those of you today who are tired (for whatever reason), and challenged and frustrated (however), and literally feeling like the world is chiseling away at your spirit, no matter how optimistic you try to be in the face of it all, I share with you my simple mantra.  When in doubt, plant--however you interpret that.

From when I was eight years old on, my childhood house had a little sign on the bathroom mirror that said, "You are looking at the face of the person responsible for your happiness today." Sayings like "Let go and let God," "First things first," "Easy does it," and "One day at a time" were all over the place, on books and plaques and candles. Talk about relying on "the man upstairs" was so constant that for years I thought we had a tenant in the attic!  I have interpreted all of that as "Trust the journey" and I have somewhere along the line left organized religion (12 years of Catholic school, folks) and made the earth (or, rather, nature) my God.

So when the new metro-Atlanta bishop (the first African American ever) at the church where I am not a member but where I help with the food pantry garden approached me at the compost pile and asked me if I would speak at the big annual symposium, I expressed hesitance. I had done that last year, and, although a great deal of interest was expressed by participants, I never heard about one person in that room starting a garden. I thought of the saying around my childhood home, "It works if you work it."  And I suggested to him that instead, perhaps, I could meet with a group right here, in this garden, and show them instead of just telling them.  Perhaps, I thought to myself, we "walk the walk instead of talk the talk."  Perhaps my Higher Power, the soil where I plant seeds in times of need (which, I've discovered with age, seems to be always), will grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  One arugula seed at a time.

My younger daughter has discovered a website named Operation Beautiful , which encourages putting sticky notes reminding people they are beautiful in random public places. She went out yesterday all excited with a purse stuffed with notes she made.  After she left, I found one.  On the bathroom mirror, in the opposite corner from where the message of my childhood used to be.  Here is what it said.  I offer this reminder as a Thanksgiving gift to each of you.  

Holidays, and life in general, can dredge up all kinds of stuff inside and out.  Keep it simple.  And grow where you're planted.

I noticed yesterday when I stopped to take that sunrise photo that the locked gate pictured above had been pushed open.  I take that as a sign.
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