Monday, April 02, 2007

Notes From My Knapsack 4-8-07
Jeff Gill

Life Doesn’t Live Itself

Your lawn doesn’t need much to start growing.

If you want lush grass instead of a full crop of spring beauty (those lovely little white flowers), clover, and the nascent buds of crabgrass that will cover half your yard by July, you need some help. Bags o’ chemicals, all of which come with college textbooks helpfully taped to the side of the canister, sack, or jug, come in colors not known in nature.

These colors conveniently stain your skin, reminding you to wash up thoroughly before eating nachos. If you later fall ill, know that the corporate lawyer will introduce into evidence the fact that you “knew” this was an acceptable risk from the multi-fold label (“purchase of this product constitutes waiver of all rights and acceptance of all provisions of this document unless a notarized letter affirming your waiver of the waiver is received at our offices in the Turks & Caicos within two days of purchase, provision as such void in Vermont and Quebec”).

If you like a diverse ecosystem right in front of your front door, just let it go. If you live in a municipality, you’d better mow (six inches and then notes from the health dept. could show up on your door), but you’ll have something to mow no matter what you do.
Unless you spray wide-spectrum U-Kil-It on the whole deal.

Then you have a window of barren soil to look forward to, and then a sudden infestation of stuff only Howard Siegrist could love. Purslane and hairy dock and three kinds of plantain plus the inevitable dandelion army.

“Life will out,” or so it seems, and it takes a great deal of chemical death to stop life from growing in the patio cracks and through the mulch and along the fencerow. Some of the startling appearance of the drive along 161 to Columbus is from the wall of foliage coming down, revealing abandoned houses as disturbing to the eye as the recent family homes now gutted and gape-mouthed. A structure just left to overgrow a decade ago looks like Sleeping Beauty’s castle in the middle of the story, with no help from the spells of evil stepmothers, just the persistence of life.

Tell all this to the gardener, even now roto-tilling and planting peas and ‘taters. Life may run amok, but not necessarily the life we desire. The most organic of gardeners is still seeking a different equilibrium, placing marigolds to counter deer and corn where beans will later climb. You try to grow some things, and not others; that’s what sets gardening and farming apart.

Life alone is not quite a value; ask someone fighting cancer. Cancer is life and growth without control or intention, just for it’s own sake. When tumors thrive, “life” as we really mean it may be threatened.

Emerson famously said “he who is not busy being born is busy dying,” and the statement holds up in a variety of settings. What undercuts that paean to growth and life is when life chokes off more life than it promotes. This is the question and concern we feel as we drive along the Rt. 161 and Rt. 62 corridors. Seeds and sprouting are not always good news.

For much of the Christian world, this springtime weekend is a celebration of the victory of life over death, seen blossoming in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Some ask why a gift of new life would be so rarely given if a loving God actually could give it, usually with their own ideas about when and where they’d like to see life returned anew.

I don’t mind the question at all, but wonder if we really know what it would mean for rebirth from death into life to be more common. All the billions who have lived, and died, brought back to walk the earth again? No, just the “right ones,” most would say, with myriad definitions of who that would be.

Each of us has a person or people we would bring back, if only for a time, to share a last laugh, to clear up misunderstandings, or to help them finish uncompleted business. However we think that would work, it wouldn’t work very well in practice. There is new life, and harvest, and there is winter. We take in each in turn, and go through them as well.

Life is remarkably persistent, but has a cycle with an individual end, with those cycles tied into a larger weave rolling out longer (and stronger) than any one thread. Some of us see resurrection as part of what empowers this plan, but even if you don’t: Go easy on the pesticides and fertilizers, value each day you get out under the sun, mowing your lawn or hoeing weeds, and remember to plant some trees for the shade of future generations.
That’s a life plan all of us can agree on.

And a happy and blessed Easter weekend to everyone!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; share a story with him at

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