“A recent inspection shows that you have EXCESSIVE WEEDS. You are in violation of the rules of the community garden,” began the letter from Sepulveda Garden Center where my wife and I lease a 12x12 plot of earth from the City of Los Angeles. It then continued, in the same nasty tone of voice: “Failure to clear your weeds within three weeks of this notice [dated 2-1/2 weeks prior] will result in FORFEITURE OF YOUR PLOT.”
As I didn’t want to forfeit my plot (who would?) over “EXCESSIVE WEEDS,” I was out there the next day to clear the beastly little things.
As it had only been a couple of weeks since I'd last tended our garden (well, actually a month, um, no, really two months—well, three months, to be precise, yes, possibly three, maybe four. . .) I was therefore unprepared for the sight that assailed my eyes as I rounded the corner past Plots 89-90, and into our Plot, Number 91. Our sweet little corner of rose and mint had transmogrified into a loathsome monstrosity, a tangled wilderness with weeds as high as an elephant’s eye. Moreover, it had taken on a threatening aspect that made my blood run cold, congeal, freeze, thaw, liquefy and evaporate.
“Oh my grandmother’s smelling salts!” I gasped.
“You can say that again,” came a voice to my right. “Some people just don’t tend their gardens, and that’s what happens! It spoils it for the rest of us, ’cause those weeds have seeds that go flying in and messing up MY garden.”
It was my neighbor in Plot 92, a nice older woman with a garden as neat and well-groomed as a maiden aunt. “I really feel sorry for whoever—” she continued, then noticed the pathetic little garden trowel in my hand. “Oh, that’s your garden. I’m sorry I was so nasty.”
Mildred smiled. “We’ve all got weeds,” she said. “It’s just a fact of life. You just have to yank them out by the roots, or they all come back.”
Her name was Mildred, she was 99 years old, and had been tending Plot 92 next to mine since like the Spanish-American War. After we exchanged pleasantries, she introduced me to her friends in Plot 93, Esther and Moishe, who said hello and gave me a cabbage.
I thanked them and said that considering what I had done to the neighborhood, I was surprised they didn’t greet me with pitchforks, let alone a cabbage. Mildred smiled. “We’ve all got weeds,” she said. “It’s just a fact of life. You just have to yank them out by the roots, or they all come back. I’ll let you get on with it.”
As I hacked and yanked the afternoon away, upgrading my plot from a Black Hole of Death to merely a community health hazard, I reflected on Mildred’s words: We’ve all got weeds… You just have to yank them out by the roots.
She’s right, I reflected. We all do have weeds. Weeds in our minds, weeds of prejudice, of reaction, of reluctance to let something or someone new in the door. And she’s right that you have to yank them out by the roots. Look what happens when you don’t: you get a colossus of overgrown creeping thistle, chickweed and ragwort in the brain that chokes out the beautiful sweet flowers of your thought and create. You can turn your back or simply give lip service to the hopeful homilies of Love and Tolerance we all like to check off in our mental “I’m-A-Good-Person” checklist, but that’s just snipping away the top of the weeds so that you can see some daylight through the jungle.
You have to yank them out by the roots, as Mildred says. And that takes some doing, because some of those roots can be mighty stubborn. You might have to get a firm grip, take a deep breath and completely change your attitude toward someone or some group, even though that attitude has become so much a part of you that you believe it IS you. (It’s not.) It means you have to back up from your life a few inches and take a look at how you view who you view and let your perspective and perception rise a tad. And when that happens that’s a good thing. Your garden can breathe again.
And sometimes a whole culture realizes belatedly that it has weeds—bad, bad weeds—and endeavors to pull them out, through protests, education, legislation. That’s a good thing, too. The world can breathe again.
But it all starts with one’s own thoughts, one’s own secret garden within. You don’t want to let excessive weeds overgrow your plot. Because you wouldn’t want to get a nasty notice threatening to kick you out of the whole community garden, now would you?