May 13, 2005

Prejudice, Death, and Gardens

I spent today in the courtyard of a local suburban elementary school. We worked tirelessly to reclaim the space for the school from creeping vines and dense soil. When all was said and done, our six Corps Members and 120 elementary students made a visible and lasting impact on the school, and ourselves. Not only were we able to transform this small space of land, but we also transformed our thinking about suburban life near Columbus and learned a little about mourning.

Before heading to the suburban town today, some of our team, including myself, worried about our potential influence in a suburban town. Does a seemingly affluent community really need our service? Shouldn't they be self-sufficient? Couldn't our efforts be used more effectively elsewhere around Columbus? As for myself, I expected a school much like the one I grew up in--monochrome and not in need of anything. After arriving and working with some of the students and the faculty, we realized this was far from the truth. There was a little diversity racially, and much diversity among the students in terms of abilities and perception. This was a neat and enlightening experience. Even my own thinking was altered through this encounter. Another prejudice has been recognized and shattered.

The second thing we encountered twice today was death. Death came today from a future family of birds within a tree we removed and in a ceremonial tree planting. The day started with two of us removing a large shrub/tree from one corner of the garden. Upon cutting it down, we found six bird nests in it. Much to our dismay, one nest contained a bird that refused to leave and a handful of eggs. Without much of a choice as the nest was spilling onto the ground, we encouraged the bird to hop away and buried the eggs. What else were we to do? How do you handle such a situation without just keeping on? It was difficult, but we felt powerless after completing an action showing such power over a small part of nature. I felt guilt, anger, and sadness over what we had done, but didn't know how to proceed showing those emotions. There was still much work to be done, so we continued. Later in the day, a family came to the school to plant a tree in memory of one of the student's mothers that had passed away over Easter weekend. This situation was equally difficult, if not more so. We dug a hole for the tree and helped the daughter put the soil back. The father stood in the back of the garden silently crying to himself. Soon the entire class was taken with the excitement of throwing the dirt in the hole, excited by the chance to play in the dirt. I felt the sadness of the dad, but couldn't separate it from the euphoria of the children. Another moment of mixed confused emotions. I hope I never have to be that dad watching children playing irreverently around a tree that I would have to hold deeply sacred.

Another day, another project changing Columbus--changing people.