I’ve never been particularly pleasant amid outdoor labor.
Unless my mind is made up, or the weather is that of October, I’m quite happy indoors where my neck stays dry and fewer things have stingers. But some seasons call me out; some reasons require my presence and action.
This past weekend, one of those reasons consisted of the rampant flowerbed weeds of summer—wild and crisp at the edges, suffocating the beauty around our home. Now, I’m worn out; let’s say that first. Life has been easy for few these last six months. I’d list our collective trauma and losses and injustices and anxieties, but you know them. Instead, I’ll nod toward them to make this point: I entered weed-pulling already tired. And if I had ripped apart my whole garden, good and all, few would blame me. “It’s all too much,” the neighbors would say, “We get it.”
But “gone” is not my goal. “New” is.
“Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”—Matthew 13: 24-30
There’s a knock-out rose bush tucked between two hedges in our backyard, all planted by a former resident whose legacy I’m trying to uphold. This spring, when the world held its breath while the red of pandemic graphics spread over vector globes like a Kool-Aid spill, like blood, that bush burst forth with a constellation of lipstick-fuchsia blooms. For the first time in worried weeks, I took a deep breath upon seeing them and said, “Good things still grow, even now. Even here.” Those petals saved my hope; I’m not lying.
Presently, in the sticky heat of a Louisiana August, deep rooted and spindly weeds have surfaced, taking hostage the rose bush’s branches. As I stood before their entanglement on Saturday, armed with hole-ridden gloves, I thought about how I’m just tired enough to uproot the whole thing, and no onlooker would blink an eye.
But, God, it’s a garden I want. Not unblemished soil at any cost: concrete, by any other name.
We’re in a reckoning, a few actually. Between #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter and the inequalities of our society put on blast for the most avoidant among us thanks to the novel coronavirus, it seems now more than in recent decades that Sam Cooke was right and a change is sure enough gonna come. Organizers are working desperately to see that steam is not lost before a page can actually be turned in our history books. And minds are changing. Minds we never thought would change are changing. For some of us, those minds are ours.
There is another phenomenon accompanying (and in many cases assisting and ushering) this revolution of values. and that is our online existence. Social media has offered an unprecedented level of accountability, education, and mobilization for these crucial movements. And the corroboration of narratives and leveling of platforms have been resources for real transformation. Who can deny it?
But I recognize something at play in and among all this progress that I worry threatens it, and that is the enemy of good being perfection, not in our expectations of ourselves but of our neighbors. I’m speaking of cancel culture, though I say the words with fear and trembling. I know there are many valid opinions around the practice, and a justifiable question of how a reckoning is to happen without such extremes (even the word “extremes” is debatable when compared to the wrongdoing often being perpetuated). I also know that as a white woman with socioeconomic advantage, it can be a privilege in and of itself to have an opinion about cancel culture. Still, I have recognized a recent willingness within myself and others to silence someone’s voice or end someone’s involvement without love or strategy because they didn’t get it quite right. And I worry what the normalization of such a mode of operation will produce in the long run.
Several times now in the last few months, I have witnessed and experienced the quick reflex of change-seeking communities—and of myself, personally—to abandon a whole person or group of people because that person or group did not exhibit a flawless and entirely evolved existence immediately. Their wheat had weeds. And in many cases, we have decided that there is no more time left for weeds. Let me be clear, there’s not. But there’s also no time to self-sabotage, burning the beauty because it hadn’t entirely and quickly rid itself of the bad. It is precisely because there is no more time left for weeds that we must approach them scrupulously.
Did I say I was tired? I was so tired. Yet, I crouched my aching body into the dirty Bermuda grass and began unwinding the vine from my rose bush. Carefully, strategically—with care and resolve—releasing that to which it had been clinging. When its form flopped to the ground, I had to take my gloved fingers and dig down until the weed’s roots were exposed, wiggling them loose like a stubborn molar tooth. Because I wanted the roses to thrive, and I wanted the weed to not return.
There are things in this world and in this time that arguably need total and complete upheaval—namely, our unjust systems. When it comes to systemic injustice, we must deconstruct, defund, demolish, dismantle now and with courage. But when it comes to people? We may be served best by not destroying the wheat for the weeds before the harvest. In an interconnected Body, it could ruin us all.
Maybe this means that sometimes we let them grow together for a while. Maybe this means that sometimes we get on our hands and knees and do the meticulous work of soil surgery to loosen the roots while preserving the roses. Maybe this means allowing them to be our mirror for how we too nourish both progress and harm within ourselves at different times. What it doesn’t mean is that we get to police anyone else’s reactions, especially when it comes to marginalized groups. But maybe it means that we take the time to evaluate our personal actions and postures towards another while approaching unjust realities with a relentless amount of urgency and people with a relentless amount of mercy.
“In the final analysis,” Dr. King said, “love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all [humans]. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.”
This is not a case for excusing bad behavior. This is a case for strategically addressing it with love and humanity, as Jesus did, knowing that no one is damned to how we experience them in one given moment, that we may actually reach the promised land, and if possible, together.