This Christmas is a special time for us. We are a family in transition with an elder daughter hosting Christmas dinner for the first time and a younger daughter returning for the holidays. We see that some of our traditions will soon become part of family lore. And then, like the generations before us, we will move on. We will learn that the family goes with each of us as we journey along life’s path; it is not tied to an iconic representation of mortar and wood. Family is nurtured over the years with love, honour and faith to become an enduring, unshakeable force within each of us.
There is much in our gardens to remind us of our families. We quickly learn what a new plant needs- much more than just provision of basic nutrients. We discover that the cultural environment may encourage a burgeoning plant to unfold into its fullness; vibrant and vital, eagerly reaching for a promising future. We learn, too, that an environment lacking in nurture, deficient not only in nutrients but also in the care of the gardener, can leave a plant withered, struggling to survive and distorted beyond all definitions of beauty. The most we can do is declare that the will to survive is a beautiful act of tenacity. In that instance, all we are really doing is absolving ourselves from the responsibility of our inaction. We must intervene and correct those imbalances with which our plants are being challenged or we cannot call ourselves gardeners.
Perhaps, some Gentle Readers might intuit this as a thinly veiled metaphor brought about by the season’s appeals to assist those facing tough times. Winter clothing and “adopt-a-child” fund raisers are unfortunately so necessary these days. Food banks and soup kitchens get some attention, too. I will suggest to you, GR, that we should look at these efforts with a manner similar to our gardening. The first part seems easy- provision of nutrients and protection from the elements. However, there should be more of a commitment than just performing a feel-good act of the “season.” On Boxing Day, the radio stations might play a few token carols but they quickly tune to the New Year.
Television ads and news stories, of course, tell of the huge sales accompanied by the cha-ching of money changing hands. And that’s okay because our “charity” will certainly last a bit longer- maybe all the way to the second of January. So what happens then? We settle down to the chore of outlasting winter whilst others struggle with the daunting challenge of surviving it. I would like to suggest that our nurturing looks at the long term. Unglamorous needs such as rent, heat, good food, transportation and even some “goodies” are needed all the time, until a family is back on its feet. Are these acts of charity? Are these acts of a family? It doesn’t really matter, does it? Please consider the long term when you respond.
The second part is much more difficult because it will involve action that changes your daily life. Part one, as important as it is, can be harshly described as merely giving away some of our surplus- rarely do we go to the lengths of “the least coin.” In practical terms, the $20.00 from a kid who worked a part-time job to raise it and the $20.00 casually dropped into the Sally Ann’s kettle by a successful professional are indistinguishable, both buy the same amount of groceries or electricity. The “kid” has moved on to the second part of understanding “gardening” in the community. (And, of course, the dastardly professional mentioned here might also be active in their social fabric, too.) The correlation between this social awareness to gardening is one of design and installation. What does a community require to ensure a healthy, supportive environment for its members? Determine what is missing in your community garden and work to provide those elements. That’s long-term gardening for all of our families.
A little heavy for a Christmas Eve column? A little bit of a departure from a gardening column? The celebration of the Christ child’s birth is much more than a feel-good event- and it is one of the best feel-good events ever- it is also a call to action.
And guess what? On Christmas eve, I get to be a shepherd!. Through the years I’ve been an inn-keeper, a tax collector and a centurion. I’ve never been a shepherd- the first group to hear the good news. I’m excited. Maybe, some day, they’ll cast me as a wise man, but I’m not holding my breath.
Merry Christmas from our family to you and yours. May it be a day of reflection, commitment, love, peace, joy, and worship.