It is a gray day and cold for these parts. It is a day of Paul, the weekly volunteer. Who fortunately likes gardening. He has come to the right place, and at the right time. The cover crop has been turned under, steer manure spread atop, the spring garden in the ground. I have had abundant help. Not that this has been easy. I missed something in having my highly efficient brother stick lettuce and spinach seedlings in the ground. Not to mention build an imaginative frame to hold the anti-squirrel netting in place. As for the seeds, well I can take some credit and pride there. I raised them on my desk, I did. They sat in one corner on a wooden dining tray for the last month, sprouting in their black plastic homes. Some days they were carried outside to bask in the sun. Others left indoors to stare at my pens and computer printer, inclined and growing toward the desk lamp, which I left on all day. And now, with me heading off for a week or so in other parts, it’s all in the ground.
Nothing seems right. The local garden center had only two badly abused packs of spinach seedlings. Their lettuce was not much better. And my desk-grown seedlings, well they have barely grown at all. They have sprouted, gotten slightly beyond the cotyledon stage. But they are nowhere ready for prime time, agriculturally speaking. Yet somehow I believe they will make it. The cool cloudy weather, the rain expected for the next week, all this bodes well. In this way, gardening is my instructor. If I tend to be cautiously pessimistic about other things, the opposite seems to be true in my raised beds. Raised expectations predominate here. The brussels sprouts being a case in point. I have yet to successfully raise a single one, yet the second generation is under way, the first having gone to seed, the seeds having gone to my current garden, and the promise of a crop…not yet abandoned.
Abandonment being something of a leitmotif. As recently as Sunday morning I awoke at 4:45 brooding over my imminent failure as a public event organizer, in this case the monthly public affairs presentation of one Jewish congregation in Palo Alto. My job being to arrange a speaker, someone from a local transportation and land-use advocacy NGO. The latter contacted me on Saturday night with some last-minute ideas, none of which seemed to involve a presentation. So I could just tell the guy would let me down. Embarrass me in front of my congregation. Bad judgment on my part…. For I had been uneasy about him. Deciding, in fact, to give part of the talk myself. And now I was just certain he was going to bomb. And I would bomb with him. No sense in sleeping. I stared at the ceiling for a couple of hours, gave up and got up.
On the way to the congregation talk I stopped by at the local copy center to duplicate flyers on the morning’s topic, the salvation of Caltrain, the local rail line. Things were already shifting, attitudinally. For a last-minute glance at my computer screen revealed that the speaker was bringing his own materials. A good sign. More than a good sign. For when it came to the talk…well, it all worked out. I give my impressions of the train, its qualities and importance. The NGO guy revealed himself to be a community organizer, endlessly patient with the audience, gently steering things toward possible solutions. The quality of patience is never strained in some people, always strained in others, like me. In short, no one had let me down. The speaker was fine. The NGO splendid. It was good that I helped with the speaking. Good for me. I wanted to do this, address familiar faces in a comfortable setting. Get out there, speak up, make my voice heard, wheelchair and all, introversion and all. A good cooperative effort. Maybe a little too much paranoia wasted on my part, but I am rusty. The fact is that I miss working with others. I do make it a point to have coffee and lunch dates as frequently as possible. A splendid thing, of course. But collaborating, meshing with other human beings’ strengths and weaknesses, getting things done and on time, building something…together…this seems to be a primal human need. It is the basis of trust. Which takes practice for me, and it’s hard practicing on my own.
Besides, there is a world out there. Funny thing about my congregation, they – or we – are getting old. Not to mention stuck in their – or our – ways. All of which heightens the cultural tendency toward opinionated disputation. Our local commuter rail line, its funding always uncertain, is now on the brink of transit destruction. Things are serious. Still, the hour was full of personal stories of ‘why I tried Caltrain once and will never do so again.’ I couldn’t find the ticket machine. The conductor didn’t see me waiting on the bench. The trains don’t connect with buses. It’s too expensive. Baseball patrons are too rowdy.
Thing is, I am supposed to know these people, for are we not part of the same community? Or maybe I don’t know myself. After all, I think nothing of a transit trip to San Francisco. Why not? Life is short. Rowdy baseball fans? Waiting for buses? Is this the worst that has ever happened to you? And yet I do know them, the people of my congregation. They are here, aren’t they? Kvetching, yes, but here. Not always seeing the big picture, despite Martin Buber’s account. But seeing it enough to be here, know this is important. And later to write letters, send e-mails and do all the right things.
As for the garden, it’s planted. Out of my hands. And quite inadvertently, it may just work out. I realized just a few hours ago. Seedlings bought at the nursery will become vegetables within a month or two. Spinach or lettuce, for a start. Then the seeds I sprouted on my desk…well, I would say two and a half months, maybe three. And the seeds Paul sowed morning. Three months, maybe four. Unintended succession. One crop after the next. Just letting things happen. Go figure.