Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Little Tomato that Could

Early in the summer my Mother-in-law planted a tomato -- two, if the complete truth be told.  But while one of them thrived in its new location, the future of the other one was none so bright.  The story of that first one is common enough -- seeded in some unknown greenhouse, sold in a local store, planted and eventually harvested.

This is the story of that other one.

It started out in that same common way, purchased alongside the other one and planted in the same backyard.  To be sure, they were planted in a garden bed exposed to the usual threats -- it's always a gamble to offer up desirables to the Fates.  But for some reason this one proved to be especially appealing to the critters of the great outdoors.  Not long after planting it my Mother-in-law discovered it uprooted and dutifully tamped it back into the soil.  Some time later, while working in another part of the garden, she noticed something dark out of the corner of her eye laying on the grass in that tomatoey part of the yard, but things are always laying on a yard, after all, and the weeds at hand or the song of a nearby bird or thoughts of the afternoon errands claimed her mind and she paid no further attention.

Days went by.  Eventually her horticultural ministrations took her to that region of the garden where she discovered that that "dark" object from days before was, indeed, that same seemingly cursed tomato plant once again uprooted and cast aside by a foraging rabbit or a tugging deer.  By now, as I mentioned, several days had passed and surely it had shriveled beyond resuscitation.  With nothing, however, to lose but a little extra effort, she laid the waylaid plant in a wheel-barrow where some water had collected and left it to soak awhile in hopes of some supernatural rehydration.  Later, she troweled a fresh space in the soil and replanted the little sprout with only the thinnest margin of optimism.

But it grew -- well, in fact -- and now this little tomato-bush-that-could is replete with rewarding fruit.  A true survivor.  She thought it nothing short of miraculous.

She mentioned the story to someone at the local weekly paper but he betrayed little interest in the story.  I can understand his reticence.  After all, a news outlet needs to be poised and ready should any breaking news...well, break out.  You wouldn't want your word processor clogged up with a tomato story.  That "breaking news" for a weekly paper is almost an oxymoron is beside the point.  They clearly had more pressing concerns -- a litter bug, perhaps; or too much pressure in the water fountain at the little league park that nearly squirted someone's eye out.  "All our reporters are busy."

I wasn't there but I can almost hear the editor thinking, "we are in the NEWS business -- civic education -- not inspiration!"

The rest of us, however, might value the humble, quiet reminder that it's tragically easy to give up too soon on the possibilities of life.  And when that happens, everybody misses out.

But for those who persist -- those who loyally replant the uprooted and those who keep on out of the sheer determination to grow -- there is, more often than you might think, something flavorful and sweet at the end.

I'm just saying...

Friday, August 16, 2013

Sometimes a Little Less Closeness is in Order

Our puppy is a shadow.  Not quite 7-months old she distinguishes herself from the 2 ½-year old “puppy” who also lives at our house by preferring our company.  Tir, the red and white older of the two Welsh Corgis, is as happy napping alone downstairs as wherever we two-legged ones might happen to be.  Nia, the tri-color younger of the two, picks herself up and relocates herself according to our movements.  Move into another room and it isn’t long before we hear Her Puppyness padding along behind us.  

Her attentiveness, however, is not without its limits.  She chooses to be near enough, but with some distance preserved.  She doesn’t, in other words, like to be held.  Invade her “personal space” and this deep, gutteral growl begins to arise from some place within her deeper than seems possible from one so small.  On the sofa she wants her back to be touching your thigh, but don’t even think of lifting her into your lap.

I rather appreciate her boundaries and proclivities -- and view them to be a healthy example.  We don’t have good models for closeness, after all, what with some families and friends and communities becoming so enmeshed as to be indistinguishable or so aloof as to have pathetically little connection at all.  Nia, I think, is onto a better way.  She reminds me of the well-worn wisdom of the Persian poet Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, in his reflection titled “On Marriage”:
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.
Be connected, in other words, but not too much so.  That might be good counsel to congregations as well as couples.  Faith communities have much to do with one another.  We have, in this world and in this community, considerable common cause.  We need each other’s company, support, encouragement, nurture, and gifts.  It’s important that we keep up with each other -- sharing our respective joys and concerns; keeping current with each other’s “news.”  But as Nia would remind us, it’s possible to get too close.  It’s important to maintain the healthier balance -- on the sofa, in the kitchen, and among the pews.