I believe in planting seeds.
With the snow 10” deep and the thermometer in the single digits—above zero, if I’m lucky—I plant seeds in the basement. I plant them in plastic trays that a pizza restaurant was going to throw away. In the dead of winter, with little sunshine, and with news from the world so depressing I turn off the radio, I wait for the seeds to grow, because it is the one truly hopeful thing I can do.
I have planted seeds all my life. First at home, beside my mother in the garden. The soil was black on top from years of cow manure, and clay underneath. After a hiatus for formal education, I planted seeds in solid clay at our first house in Maryland. Tiring of Washington DC after three years, my husband and I moved to Iowa, and I planted seeds in the same garden tended by the previous owner for 40 years. Nine years ago, we moved to our current home, and I had a friend plow up pasture so I could plant a garden—nearly an acre of it these days. I still marvel at the Iowa topsoil: black, and loose, and fertile. I can grow anything! Planting seeds is my annual act of optimism.
My husband and I were married nearly 8 years before we decided to have children. We discussed whether it was the right thing to do, to bring a child into a world that seemed so violent and bent on self-destruction. During that time we talked about the possibility of adopting a child one day. It seemed to us that the world was full of children who had no hope, and we thought we could change that for one child. When we did decide to have children, it was, for me at least, for the same reason why I plant seeds: it was the hopeful thing to do. So I got pregnant, twice, and we had two wonderful boys. And each spring I planted seeds.
When our younger son was about two, I began to think again about adopting. My husband wasn’t so sure anymore. We took some pre-adoption classes with the state, were discouraged by the state social workers, and though I suggested international adoption, my husband had lost interest. Months later, he came home one day and said “I’ve been thinking about it. Let’s look into the international thing.” A year later, we traveled to Russia and brought home our daughter Anna. Some seeds take years to bear fruit.
My children know how to plant seeds. They know how to cover seeds, and water plants, and spread mulch, and pull weeds, and wait for the harvest. They know how to save seeds, as well. They know you can take that little seed from your favorite tomato or flower, and store it in a safe place, and plant it next year. As long you have seeds, you will have food, and you will have beauty, and you will have a reason to be hopeful.
I hope that I am planting other kinds of seeds in my children. When we plant seeds and tend the livestock, I plant seeds of knowledge about the cycle of nature, self-sufficiency, animal husbandry, and raising food with integrity. When I teach them to cook and sew and use a drill and balance a checkbook, I plant the seeds of life skills. When I send them out in the cold and dark to do chores before school, I am planting the seeds of responsibility. When we help the synagogue serve food at a homeless shelter or help the 4-H club make pillowcases for foster children, I plant seeds of compassion and the need to look outside one’s own comfort zone. Though they complain about Dad or me going to another meeting, I hope we are planting seeds about the importance of community involvement. When they go with me to the Legion Hall to vote, I am planting seeds of citizenship. When we read from the Torah and discuss the stories, we plant seeds of knowledge about Judaism and human behavior and ethical living.
Every year I plant seeds. Every year I save seeds. And every year I harvest the fruit of seeds that were planted, sometimes, years before. I believe in planting seeds. It is my only hope for the future.
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