Friday, March 6, 2015

Planting apple trees

I live in Alabama. Two days ago it was 70 degrees outside. Yesterday the whole town was shut down due to an ice storm. True story. So this got me thinking about the end of the world. Obviously. Which reminded me of a quote I posted on my facebook page on MLK day:
"Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces I would still plant my apple tree.”  -Martin Luther King Jr

I like this sentiment. But since the day I posted it, I've been feeling a little guilty. See technically speaking, I would be lying if I claimed I would plant an apple tree the day before the world ended. In all honesty, more likely I would wait until the morning of the last day. Or I'd wait till the morning of the last day to buy the seed. Then I'd plant it mid-day. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure I'd think about planting it the day before the world ended. I'd probably even plan in my head where it should be planted. Might even check on the inventory of apple seeds. But actually plant it when there's a whole other day left in which to do it? Unlikely.

See I'm not crippled by pessimism, but rather optimism. A pessimist might think why plant an apple tree when the world's going to end anyway? Me, I dwell in possibility. So I would say, why plant an apple tree today when I'll have so much time tomorrow? And who really knows if the world will end?  However it occurs to me in either case, the apple tree is not planted as soon as it could be...

Perhaps my optimism slows me down in areas of social justice. When I don't participate in a march or a protest or a movement, it's not because I don't think those things will help. It's because I think lots of things will help, and that I'll have time to do some of them.  I truly believe in the goodness of people. I tend to think things will work out. That the arc of moral universe is long, but it does bend toward justice as King believed. And so sometimes I wait. Since I believe in the end it will be all right, perhaps I don't try hard enough to speed up the arc's journey. I try a little; if I see an injustice, or I'm presented with an opportunity to help, of course I do that. But perhaps I'm missing the urgency that comes with thinking things are crap and always will be crap unless we do something now...

Not that I want to think things are crap. I think some things are unjust. Some things are wrong. Some things are horrible. Some things are unacceptable. But I never think things in general are crap. And so I wait to plant my apple tree. So what to do?!?

I need to make friends with more tree planters. I may not always believe I need to take a stand for a cause. But I always believe I need to stand with my friends. I do see the urgency in supporting people I love. And so if I belonged to a community of tree planters who spent the whole day before the world ended planting trees, I would be right there with them. 

To make a difference in the world, I'm motivated not to fight for a cause, but to fight for friends. I'm spurred to action by community. Which is why I believe in building as diverse of a community as possible. The more diversity in the community, the more depth in the ways to help the world. When we lift up the cause important to one member or our community, we lift up the entire community bit by bit. I hope you'll join us. I'll bring the shovel. You get the seeds...

Sunday, March 1, 2015

My Formative Tree- for David Duckworth

I clearly remember the moment I first realized it was possible for me to be wrong. I was 18 and in the middle of an argument with a friend's sister in England. I was defending our American lifestyle and feeling righteously indignant. My favorite state of being really when I was 18. Then she said something about how if we were serious about the environment we could build public transportation systems to decrease our dependance on cars. And it hit me. She might be right. I had nothing to say back. A rare occasion for me up to that point.

I tell that story not to say anything about the specifics of transportation policy or my opinions now of it. But rather to illustrate a formative moment in my life. Whenever I've felt myself digging into a position without looking at the other side, I remember that conversation. And that feeling of realizing there was another side. Someone else might have a reasoned point. And I'm grateful to her. To my friend's sister I only knew for 2 weeks more than 20 years ago. Grateful for an interaction in all likelihood she has no memory of having.

Formative experiences are like that. Something seemingly small and insignificant to one person, could change another person's whole life. Wouldn't it be interesting to map out these formative memories the way we do our family trees? In the same way we trace back to find our ancestors to gain insight into our DNA, perhaps we could make a formative tree with those people who had real impacts on our emotional maturity. Really see everyone who helped make us- us. To honor and remember their contributions the way we honor our ancestors. 

Some people might appear on our formative trees as tiny twigs signifying short encounters like the conversation I remember with my friend's sister. But other people, old friends, might be represented with huge branches or even large parts of our root systems. Friends who were there being fused to our hearts while we were being formed.

One of my formative friends, David Duckworth, passed away last week. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend an evening with him and his wife a few years back while my husband and I were in London where David and his wife lived. That was the only time I had seen him over the last 20 years. And yet when I heard he had died, I felt real sadness and a need to mourn. For a second, I felt like that might be inappropriate. Like I had no right to mourn for someone I hardly knew anymore. That I should feel for his wife and children (which of course I do) but not sadness on my own account.

Then after hearing of his death, two other old friends reached out to me through messaging about their feelings, and I've read other friends' comments on Facebook, and I realized, of course I should mourn for David. We all should. He was important to me and to so many others. If I can feel affection for an ancestor I've never met, how much more appropriate is it to feel sorrow at the loss of someone so important on my formative tree? We are intertwined. He is a part of me. And when a part of you dies, you mourn.

I'm not sure if David knew how much I admired him. How much I thought of his character. But I hope he knew I was glad to have been his friend. And if you're an old friend reading this, please know I was blessed by you too. I am certain you would appear on my formative tree. And no matter how long it has been since we've spoken, just like David, you'll always be fused to my heart. My memories of you- make up me.

from my 18th birthday party- Anna, Dharmesh, Sheri, David, Stephen- some of my favorite branches.