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Blackberries + Shame
(and abandoning our "communities built for one")
Every April I tunnel my way out of winter and reacquaint myself with the Eden out back. I root around for peonies poking through the yawning earth. Their showsy, blowsy, full-bloom petticoats aren’t on my mind yet. For now, I only have eyes for what comes next - the cobblestoned, winter-bruised shoots that look strangely like asparagus.
I make my way to the blackberry fence hugging our vecinos’ property line, inspecting their weather-beaten canes for just a flash of leaf. Eyelash-sized is big enough. Hope is the thing with chlorophyll - that pushes through the soil…
They say peonies and blackberries are hardy to the sub-zero temps that sweep over us from Lake Michigan’s balmy depths. But that was never the problem. The real threat, I learned, happens after I believe we’re out of the winter woods. I get too comfortable. Too pie-in-the-sky. I can’t bear the thought of one more hard freeze. Not in May.
So, I don’t. I do not heed the “cover” warnings. I do not carry bed sheets onto my lawn and drape my dreams.
I hate myself, come August. I’ll do better next time.
And I did.
I watched those canes like my life depended on it, broad leaves busting through their knuckles. I waged war against beetles and paid attention as tiny flowers bubbled into spring-green knobs of someday-berries. My daydreams were served a’la mode.
I decided (as I do every summer) that I want a slow life, a soft summer. I would swim in berries. On drowsy evenings I would fashion my t-shirt into a bowl and fill it with the fattest tomatoes. Listen, I had hauled those out sheets in May, dammit. I had planted the garden by myself for the first time ever, taking care to pencil a chart of what was planted where.
I did everything right - such pride! So, tell me, why did I just last week throw away gallons of blackberries that had languished in the fridge until they turned to bad wine? (The opposite of a miracle.)
For the past six years, I’ve clung to the top half of Jeremiah 29 like a life float.
For the past six days, it has taunted me.
“Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce.” Jeremiah 29:5b
I planted the garden but neglected the food. I squandered God’s fresh air and rain. Who does that? I was too busy. Too distracted. I let life get the best of me. “And eat the food they produce…” Those words swam through my consciousness until all I could do was assume God was sending a message meant to humble me back into good standing. I am a woman with so many hungry friends, and still, I wasted food.
At the least, I could write about it. Shape it into a lesson and surely the shame would recede - my penance as a wordcount. We’re all too busy, after all. We all need a reminder to stop and eat the blackberries.
But then I spent our 24th wedding anniversary teasing Cory about his “man cold” and every day since tending to a very sick husband. All week I’ve puttered around and felt unproductive yet oddly peaceful, at least until I fall asleep shaming myself for not getting caught up on work.
We are never enough. We do too much. We are unprofessional. We are tired. We can’t keep going. We can’t slow down. We make plans and cancel them. We rally and whither. We promise ourselves the space to _______ then scrub dirty windowsills instead. We blame ourselves for being human. We cannot get the garden planted. Even if we do, we might not have what it takes to eat the fruit.
Now what, God? Are we in trouble?
And while I’m here, are you Love, like they say?
Are you Justice, like they say?
I go on lashing myself as the cucumbers grow too large. I pick a boatload of ripe tomatoes then accidentally leave them out in 100 degree heat. If summer happens, but you have no jam and very few pickles to show for it, did summer really happen?
“…and eat the food it produces.”
I AM FAILING AT THE EASY PART.
And then, one morning as I deliver my adult-sized kids to their schools, God speaks to me in a slide-show.
There were the nachos verde with Cal and Mireya, just days before we dropped him off at college. Karen’s German potato salad, that I find myself still thinking about. The melon donated at work, ripe and pre-cut. This was the summer I discovered Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream and ate it several times while watching The Bear and Reservation Dogs late at night in bed. I nibbled straight rows of a generous farmer’s sweet corn. I baked cinnamon rolls for dinner and shared them with “Why not?” friends. Two nights ago, picking those ill-fated, heat-stroked tomatoes, Juana walked from her yard to mine and we patched together conversation as I loaded her up with everything she could hold, and told her to help herself to the basil and parsley anytime.
I didn’t eat much of the food my garden produced, but I am far from hungry.
One of the high points of my summer was reading Marcie Alvis Walker’s sparkling, whimsical, heavy-hitting new release, Everybody Come Alive.
“All too often we meet each other as strangers. We stumble upon each other like abandoned houses carrying only fragments of who we once were. We meet each other and smile out of politeness, hoping to find someone much like us inside one another. We want to find each other lit from within. We hope someone left a light on so we can see our way through each other’s darkness.”
It’s been that kind of a summer, too. So many lamps lit on my behalf and trusting the one outside my window, obscured at times to myself, is casting its glow for others.
“In South Africa there’s a philosophy of community called ubuntu. It doesn’t translate neatly because the world in and of itself is a state of mind, but the heart of its meaning is ‘I am because we are’… This sense of ubuntu is what Jesus offers to Martha when she complains…and he answers, ‘My dear Martha, Mary knows I am because we are. Abiding with me is all the community that matters. Please, abandon this community you’ve built for one.’”
I guess what I’m (always re-)learning is that if we’re fully in community with each other, we are all here in the garden together.
There is enough food for everyone.
New life is its own reward.
We are definitely not in trouble.
God is with us, ceaselessly, looking a lot like eye contact and paper plates piled with potato salad.
We will be here long after this summer’s last tomato drops.
We are the garden.
We will all be fed.
This + That
:: My mantra these days is, “Summer isn’t over.” I absolutely won’t get around to baking a pie. But I did bake the best blackberry muffins of my entire life this week and I can’t wait to do it all again as the last berries ripen. I subbed lime zest for orange zest. Buttermilk is mandatory but always worth it. (And in a pinch, you can make your own.)
:: I cannot recommend highly enough a BLT with this Basil Aoli (recipe from neighbor Katherine)
1 cup mayo
1 cup packed basil
1-2 cloves garlic
Squeeze of lemon
Pinch of salt
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