Cultivating hope in spring bloom of war
MEDFORD, N.J. — I am a peaceful patriot and my garden is a reflection of my heart.
The first breath of spring came wafting across my yard this week, and what has been a hard, frozen, white terrain became soft, wet earth dotted by the shoots of dozens of perennials. In the center of a raised bed, the little Peace Rose bush was showing signs of life.
As I looked down at my awakening land, I thought of the "Gardens for Victory" of World War II, planted during a time when folks were asked by their government to become more self-sufficient so that more produce could be shipped to troops.
I thought of all the talk of bio-terrorism that could affect food supplies, and the impending war, and wondered if I should plant a Victory Garden. Somehow, planting out of fear, rather than a promised triumph, seemed a wrench to my gardener's heart. Also I was thinking about how conflicted I've been over this war, and all the potential for civilian casualties in Iraq, and the Americans who might be lost.
My neighbor calling across the back fence interrupted my reverie. These are new neighbors. A young couple, just married. Mike is in the Air Force, flying refueling planes, and has been running a number of desert-training missions since summer. I asked the new bride, Jeannie, how things were going.
"He's gone," she said with resignation. "He's in Germany. Indefinitely." All the other missions had a start and finish date. She knew when to expect her new husband to walk through the door. Now the door on his return was left open, swinging in the fresh spring breeze that stirred my heart.
"Well, at least he'll be in the air," she said. "He told me he feels spoiled being up there, so much safer than the ones who'll fight on the ground."
A heavy moment hung between us, as did the words "war" and "safer." We chatted about gardens and how nice it was to see some fresh weather. I told her to come to my door any time she needed a chat or cup of coffee. She smiled weakly and agreed.
I went back to my little garden plot and thought more deeply about what it should be. It can't be a Victory Garden for me because that's just a little too proud and powerful for the way I feel about this war. It can't be a Peace Garden either because I don't think I will be at peace with this if something happens to Mike or if I turn on the news and learn Iraqi children have been killed. Also, if terrorism increases on our soil as a result of the war, there will be no peaceful moments for many years to come.
What does gardening and raising my own food and flowers mean to me? What is it to choose what I want, and to work, sweat, and tend it to bring it all to fruition? Sometimes the things I nurture most wither and die while the weeds flourish. Things I expect the least of blossom with untold bounty.
Through sun and rain, shade and heat, something good always comes of it, no matter how tender and small. The tiniest bloom is a success. Sounds like America to me.
I will plant an American garden. In it will be sown: Red tomatoes for the blood that may be spilled. White Peace Roses for what I pray will come. Blue Lake Bush beans for a leader who should be blue, saddened if even one innocent life is lost and by the division of the world as we have known it. Ringing it all in will be sprays of lavender, mint, lemon grass, rosemary and thyme to represent the mix of sweetness, tang of tears, joy and bitterness that will come with victory - should we be so blessed and cursed.
• Lisa Suhay is a freelance writer.