Friday, June 5, 2009

Planting and Nurturing a Garden

I have been getting to know Sherry Rambin, a nurse administrator by day and a photographer by heart, in Asheville. What an adventure! Sherry loves life and photographing it, and her joy is contagious.
The other evening, she and I discussed the various roles of a Gardener, comparing them to the types of people one meets.

There's the Cultivator, the person who prepares the ground for planting. I've met several Cultivators over the past few years, especially in the non-profit area. Savie Underhill is in her upper 80s and now living in Boston near her daughter. During her career days, she lived around the world with her ambassadorial husband, Francis (she also worked with Eleanor Roosevelt, one of my "sheroes"!). Francis and Savie would move to a country, and when Francis would head for the embassy to do government work, Savie would head into the streets to see what the people needed. Then she tilled the soil to help make it grow into reality. When they first moved to the Hendersonville area, she -- with another Cultivator, Fran Schneider -- prepared the soil for the Dispute Settlement Center, the non-profit organization I proudly represented for 6 years which offers alternative dispute settlement processes and education to our community. Twenty-five years later, there have been lots of people who have experienced transformative mediation and how to have a respectful conversation with another around a contentious issue, thanks to these two women. (I want to be like them when I grow up!)

Then there is the Sower, the person who intentionally plants each seed in carefully prepared soil so that it will grow into a strong, beautiful, nourishing plant. I have had the privilege of knowing Seed Planters, too. Those people who are passionate about an idea and do what they can to make sure it is planted where it has the most potential for growth.

And there are the Waterers. These are the Nurturers of all things, delicate and strong. They are the ones who nurture newly planted seeds so that they can root deeply and leaf generously in order to successfully grow into strong plants. They also nurture old trees to ensure its continued health and strength.

Sherry first raised this whole series of roles by referring to me as a Fertilizer (no, not full of manure -- although some folks might say so! -- but instead one who fertilizes the plant). I love this analogy, because my heart's work is about building community (in addition to my art, which is my heART's work...). For someone to see me as a catalyst for positive growth and change is very exciting to me!
There are also the Weeders, those who lovingly go through the garden, thinning the seedlings and removing what is detrimental to the good of the whole. I once read that weeds are just plants that are growing where you don't want them to be. And in every community, we need Weeders, people who intentionally work to keep the garden healthy and thriving without unwanted weeds and pests causing damage to it. There are some non-profits in our area which are not receiving the funding that they previously have -- which is sad, indeed -- but they may not be as effective as others in providing the services that are needed now (more than ever). In this respect, funders (individuals and groups) are the Weeders, deciding who to support in their missions during these lean times. (That is all of us, folks!)
And then there are the Reapers, the ones who harvest the fruits of the garden to nurture others. This is true for edible fruits and veggies and herbs as well as non-edible (at least to us) flowers that feed our senses while providing sustenance and nectar to butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and others. I think of our local Council on Aging non-profit and their corps of volunteers who provide transportation for their Meals on Wheels program. Every day, nutritious food is prepared by the COA and volunteers pick up their clients' meals and deliver them to their door. Often, volunteers are the Reapers who offer the wealth of the harvest to clients. Most of our mediations at the DSC were provided by volunteers, who found great satisfaction in providing a safe place for folks to work through a conflict. Where would we be without Red Cross volunteers? Or Humane Society volunteers? Or Literacy tutors? Freely giving a part of yourself is a reward in and of itself.

And of course, none of these roles is exclusive of the others. Often, we find ourselves with a passionate project we want to create, plant, nuture, and harvest. Each of us -- whether it's as a parent, as an artist, in a professional role, or as a friend -- can fulfill each of these tasks. But I do believe that we each have a tendency to lean naturally to one particular role.

Which is your favorite role? Are you nurturing that in yourself?

Don't ask what the world needs.
Ask yourself what makes you come alive
And then go do that.
Because what the world needs
Is people who have come
-- Harold Thurman Whitman

I hope you have the opportunity to fulfill your most passionate gardening role today!


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