We have gardens in the front and back yards at my house. We paid more attention to them when we were exclusively home during the pandemic, and so now I am happy to report that we grow more than weeds. The children planted watermelon and pumpkins, and they go each day to check on the growth. It’s fun to see the kids work with the dirt, monitoring blooms, checking for signs of life. They are concerned about water and cross-pollination, each having a square of earth to call their own. Yesterday, they made a unanimous decision to pick the watermelon, cut it into quarters, and then share the pieces amongst themselves (with a few bites for dear old mom!). Their verdict: delicious. Perhaps they were biased though. After all, it was the fruit of their labor.
The other day I found myself fluttering around the garden, tucking seeds from a previous sunflower we had grown into the ground, scattering them around the perimeter of our block wall. Sunflowers are happiness. They are bursts of color stretching toward the sun, standing proudly wherever they bloom. We need more happiness. But was it too late? Are the seeds ready to be planted? Is the soil good enough? Will there be enough water? These questions swirled in my mind as I patted each one into place, waiting to see what would grow. It is not lost on me that this is how we do many things in life. Planting seeds, tucking them into the earth, not knowing what will happen, but trying our best to align conditions in the hopes of favorable outcomes, knowing full well not everything will sprout.
Recently I found out one of the subjects of Dear Heterosexual Male had another gig going on while fishing for my interest, one in which led to pregnancy and a quick marriage, and explained why he dropped off the face of the planet shortly thereafter. I’ve had so many well-meaning people try to tell me that I dodged a bullet. I’m better off. He was mediocre. Etc. And yes, my rational side agrees. But it still doesn’t erase the hopes and dreams inevitably fostered when there is possibility, when you’ve invested time and energy, when you took a chance with your heart and nothing bloomed.
I saw a quote recently that resonated. Jeremy Goldberg said, “Courage is knowing it might hurt, and doing it anyway. Stupidity is the same. And that’s why life is hard.”
In the five years since my husband’s passing, my options have been sparse in terms of new partnership. There hasn’t been anything I felt good about. Mediocrity abounds. Good on you if you haven’t had to sit in the loneliness of a barren garden, coaxing something– anything– to grow. I do not wish this on anyone. The only thing I know for certain is that I only plan to level up and not settle for mediocrity, and my children’s welfare and lifestyles are paramount to me. This is a difficult seed to plant and grow in the garden I have found myself dwelling in. So, in lieu of companionsion, my answer has been to invest in myself. My health. My skincare. My learning. My time. My boundaries. My finances. My leisure. Cultivating abundance within myself and my family, trying not to dwell on what hasn’t grown beyond.
But I am only human, and sometimes the hopelessness creeps in and I can’t help but wonder why the mediocre male chose the ugly mediocre woman. Why this happened. What that didn’t happen. Sometimes I feel like no matter what I do– no matter how hard I work– I’ll still go through my life invisible in this world. I feel this even with my own family. I don’t think they have a clue how heavy life is on my back. Everyone just takes it for granted that I will carry it like a pack mule, swallow my struggles and keep showing up with no actual emotional support. I am not likely to ask for help, and they are not likely to recognize signs of my distress. This is when I miss my husband terribly. I miss taking refuge in someone who recognizes the sweat on my brow and makes me feel seen. Nobody wants to be invisible.
Raising children is just like planting seeds. We do what we can, with what we know at the time, understanding that we can not predict how these humans will grow. It begins the moment we find out we are pregnant, when we see the tiny bean on the ultrasound, realizing in terror that any number of things could go wrong and we would not be able to stop it. We hope the fruit of our labor will be sweet, but honestly, we have only so much control. Letting go seems to be the only option. Do what we can, with what we have, and let go of the rest. There just aren’t any guarantees in life. I think this is when I really began to understand heartbreak.
This is the nature of the seeds we plant. I don’t know what the outcome will be, but I inform my decisions by current conditions and circumstances, and try to align them as favorably as possible for future prosperity. I will give it my all. I will try to learn as much as possible. But the rest is out of my hands..
Still, that doesn’t make the disappointment of what doesn’t grow any less hurtful. It doesn’t erase the pain of lost potential. Dashed expectations. Unfulfilled promises. Such is the nature of life, I suppose. Learning to cradle our hearts when there are no good answers as to why something doesn’t exist. Wrapping it up with duct tape and moving onward.
It’s Labor Day Weekend in the United States, honoring workers and labor unions. I’ve participated in a wide array of labor organizing over the years. You often wonder if something will make a difference, especially when the odds seem insurmountable. Sometimes when you’re going up against something big, it is difficult not to feel like everything is futile. But I think about the seeds that have been planted over time. I think about the suffering humans have endured. I think about the progress that has been made, and the work that still needs to be done. The slaves brought to this country in 1619, forced to work for free in inhumane conditions, and what they had to endure with no recourse. The acts of resistance that did not immediately beget change. I think about Mother Jones leading the children’s march in 1903. I think about the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act establishing a minimum wage and a 40 hour work week, and how my great-grandparents were alive and working during a time when none of those protections existed. I think about the protests and door-to-door campaigning we’ve done in the past. The strikes that were held, especially in Los Angeles a few years ago. I think about the blood, sweat, and tears of our leaders and organizers who invest in causes, never really knowing when or if something will change, but holding steadfast to a vision inside of them. The needle moves slowly. Change happens thanks to a multitude of actions done by people who foster hope with no guarantee. Change only happens when someone takes a chance and plants the seeds, nurturing the soil beneath our feet, investing everything we have in this moment to create a more prosperous tomorrow. This is an act of love.
So, I ask myself: what seeds of hope are you planting today? Yes, sometimes (often) the soil isn’t great. I have no idea when to harvest the potatoes. There are bugs eating my corn and white mildew plaguing my pumpkins. It hasn’t rained. It’s too hot. It’s too cold. I don’t have much time. The odds often feel stacked against me. I often feel like someone competing in a triathalon and has had every limb amputated.
There is a great paragraph from Peter Senghe’s “The Fifth Discipline.” Here it is:
“People with a high level of personal mastery share several basic characteristics. They have a special sense of purpose that lies behind their visions and goals. For such a person, a vision is a calling rather than simply a good idea. They see current reality as an ally, not an enemy. They have learned how to perceive and work with forces of change rather than resist those forces. They are deeply inquisitive, committed to continually seeing reality more and more accurately. They feel connected to others and to life itself. Yet they sacrifice none of their uniqueness. They feel as if they are part of a larger creative process, which they can influence but cannot unilaterally control.”
As usual, I don’t have all of the answers. I only know that planting seeds is what we should do, even when the heartbreak feels too much. Planting seeds is courageous. Courage is the strength we show in the face of pain or grief. The human species has continued on the back of courageous people who have made both small and big contributions– taking huge leaps of faith– to sow the seeds of love. There may be fruit, but there may just be a failed attempt that becomes a learning opportunity. Both are necessary.
Happy Labor Day. As Glennon Doyle says, today we rest. Tomorrow we fight. (Or plant seeds. Or both.)