Yesterday, the day after Sharing Manna’s fall planting, we had a special word of encouragement from Mary Jac Brennan, the Community Gardening Coordinator of Forsyth’s Cooperative Extension Service, where Sharing Manna Garden is listed. Here’s the transcript:
Thank you Ely, and thank you all for allowing me to be here and talk to you for just a few minutes. I’m not going to talk long, but my role at Cooperative Extension is to help community gardens get established and to continue. That’s my “official” role of working with Ely, although Ely is a friend of mine. I have enjoyed that relationship, and it’s certainly blessed my life, both Ely and Alfred.
When Ely came to me and talked about wanting to have a garden here, she did it in the very best way. She went out and trained herself, got herself educated about gardening; she volunteered in another community garden for a whole summer and saw how that worked. She was a hard worker in that garden that happens to be a garden I participated in at a church I go to in Kernersville. And the people in that garden came to love Ely and Alfred and were very concerned about what happened to your garden too.
So she did it in all the right ways. She helped, you all started [GreenTree’s garden] last year, and this year she went to Master Gardener training. That was a tough, long period of classes where you have to go and study and take tests and then you have to serve, it’s volunteer; you have to give back. Part of what she’s done with that is to enlarge this garden. What I’ve been really impressed with your church is how the garden has become such a part of your outreach. And that’s wonderful, because it’s not just serving the people here, but it’s serving the people in the community.
It was so unfortunate when, a few weeks ago, the damage happened to the garden. I was out of town at a conference when I got an email from Ely, saying that the garden had been damaged. When I got back to town, I came over the next day, and I was standing in the garden with her, and it was very sad. It was really, really sad, because I know how much love has gone into that garden. I was telling her, “Well, now, you can do this, and you can do that,” and I had this awareness that . . . you know what? This is a time when we need to reach out, not just in the good times, but in the bad times too. So we decided that we would reach out to the community and ask for help.
I’m a Christian, and I believe that that’s when, [in] our spiritual path, the rubber hits the road. When things are good, it’s easy to be loving, and caring, and do for others. But when our lives get tough, when we get those bumps in the road, or somebody damages a beautiful garden that has been such a source of love and giving, it would be easy just to say, “Well, we quit.” Some churches, some groups, would’ve said, “Well, we can’t have a garden anymore, because it’s just going to be a place where people come and do vandalism.” I don’t think that’s what the Christian life is about. I think it’s about moving forward even in those times of tribulation and the hard times.
So, my hat is off to you all, as a group, as a community, for moving forward with this. It’s been an amazing experience for me to be on the sidelines and watch the community come together and support this garden. I know that there were twenty-eight people who came to clean out the garden, and many of them had never heard of GreenTree before, didn’t know this place existed, but were happy to come and help. Then you had more people yesterday with the fall planting. I run into people all over the place just in my job about community gardens, and everywhere I go, people are saying, “Oh, that was so bad what happened in that garden; what can we do to help? Is there anything we can do to help?” I was telling Ely this morning, people at my church (because they’ve read the story in the newspaper, and they know Ely from working in the garden last summer) said, “Ask her what she needs, ask her what we can do to help.”
And so a very traumatic experience that has been handled very gracefully by your community is going to lift up the message of community gardening and probably lift up your community of GreenTree as well. I’m just thrilled to get to be on the sidelines and watch this happen, because it’s amazing what happens when people come together in one spirit. And of course, as a Christian, I know that there’s a major Power involved that we have no control over, and it’s just wonderful to be able to be a part of that. So thank you so much for the moment to speak to you; and keep up the wonderful gardening work. If you want to know more about gardening, Ely is a wonderful teacher, and she can direct you to some of us at Cooperative Extension: that’s our role, to teach people how to garden as well.
For more information about Master Gardening and the Cooperative Extension, visit http://www.co.forsyth.nc.us/CES/Gardening/ or contact Mary Jac Brennan at (336) 703-2850.
For Sharing Manna online, visit http://www.forsythcommunitygardening.com/SpecificGarden.aspx?GardenID=28
Last weekend, Sharing Manna Garden was vandalized. Which means, in our case, that someone had mashed down the fence, pulled up stakes and thrust them forward in an angry heap, and sprayed a toxic chemical on the zucchini, green beans, and other vegetables and flowers that left them yellow and brown and full of holes, as if locusts had made a feast of it. Flower pots that had held happy things in bright reds and whites now held sprays of wispy stuff that looked like chewed-up paper. It was a sudden portrait of anger, or mischief, or maybe even hate.
When I found out what had happened to GreenTree’s garden, my first question—maybe it’s yours, too—was, naturally, “Why would someone do this?” The person whom this act probably had the potential to discourage most was Ely, our garden mentor. This cruel act could not have, of course, been meant for Ely, the cheerful, gentle Ely whose Portuguese accent soothes every conversation in which she engages….Ely, who leads a team of workers who quietly and happily dig, plant, gather, and bag up veggies for the community with unpretentious contentment, week after week. But the question still begs for meaning…why? Why would someone do something to satisfy some self-focused primal urge, and not, for one minute, stop to consider who is being hurt?
But Sunday morning, as I walked to the back of GreenTree’s property and surveyed the damage and used my trusty friend the camera to make some pictorial sense of the chaos in front of me, and as I trudged through the dry mess along the drooping fence that held the sad, bowed-down tangle of dead vines, I dropped my cell phone.
And my cell phone reminded me of something. Something about me.
Just days before, in an already testy mood, I’d gotten irritated at someone I hardly knew. I’d misunderstood something someone had texted me. My sensitive pride had been jabbed in a very bruised spot and I lost all rational thought—and do you know what I did? In a matter of seconds I held my breath and deleted the person from my contacts list. Then I stuck my phone down onto the table as if it had been exposed to something poisonous. My pulse was racing as if I’d just stepped on a big spider and barely got it.
I tore down. In a hasty moment, I did something very stupid. I tore something down.
(Minutes later that day, I got another text from the same person, and my wild misunderstanding vanished when I realized my fears were entirely unfounded. I laughed at myself, and I added the person’s contact information back into my phone. But not without some disappointment. I had been so hasty to wipe out a person’s name, as if it had never existed.)
Now, on a Sunday morning, I was standing in the middle of a garden, torn down by a hasty act of anger, or perhaps wounded pride, or a completely crazy and irrational act based on some horrible past. Another example of a very sad fact:
WE TEAR DOWN.
The very first garden in the history of mankind, extravagantly and infinitely more beautiful than this one, did not last, because two hasty humans did one thoughtless act. Now plants die, they become yellowed, bugs eat them, trees fall, we dig, dig, dig, and sweat, sweat, sweat, for a few measly meals that keep us alive before we have to do it all over again.
I went inside with enough pictures in my camera to mark a memory for a year, and I spotted, seated in the main room, Ely Wakefield and Chryl McWilliams—two hard-working and loving women who were a little quieted by the messed-up garden but not angry. I stashed my camera away and joined them.
“I talked to my sister on the phone,” Ely remarked. “She said, ‘God will take care of it.’ It’s going to be all right.”
Ely said that she wasn’t angry. Neither was Chryl. “What would we accomplish by retaliating?” she asked. And with the lack of surprise that comes with maturity, Chryl pointed out that, although the original plan for the end of the summer was to prune everything back in hopes of having it reproduce foliage (instead of starting again from seed), this setback came near the time set aside for re-working anyway (near the end of August). They have a garden work-day set for August 18, a day when the workers will start over and move forward.
Both women understand something important. Sin is not surprising, and we all do it. Maybe we don’t ransack property, but we can tear down one another with our words. Maybe we don’t destroy plants with chemicals, but we could easily kill a day of productive work with a bad attitude. Maybe we don’t mangle pots of tender flowers, but we sure can extinguish a friendship with an unforgiving spirit.
The conclusion of both women: God will work it all out. “It’s God’s work,” added Ely. “This wasn’t against us, it was against God.” Tearing down the garden is tearing down God’s work, and He will take care of His work. “God will work it out”—not because we at GreenTree are some kind of righteous, do-nothing-wrong group of holy people who wear the white hats and deserve special treatment as members of the God-Team. No . . . God will work it out because He is loving, and merciful. And the same God who forgives us daily for our bad attitudes and hasty words and short tempers is the same God who will restore the damage from an act of mischief or anger strong enough at the moment to enflame a vandalism storm.
“He will take care of it,” as Ely Wakefield’s sister said. He’s the only one who can be trusted to do so. We may feel torn, and we may tear down, but He will build up.