Our world is a garden.

Our world is a garden.

In an effort to take care of ourselves, Zach and I have been planning a Square Foot Garden (the picture of this post is featuring the space we intend to turn into our garden.) I don’t know what makes us think we can handle one; last year I had a couple pots on our back deck of various vegetables and nothing harvestable came of them. But Zach has been so excited about starting up a garden; he has done all of the research, we mapped the garden plot together, and we have already started some seeds. Needless to say, the room we kept the seeds in (because it got so much sun) was too chilly (thanks to old, leaky windows) and they have died. We plan to start new seeds this weekend and hope that the warmer weather will keep the room at a reasonable temperature. 

This past year has been long and short, trying and easy all at the same time. As a family, we have witnessed Delilah grow. A year ago today, she was just beginning to crawl. Now she has walked a quarter of a mile during our evening walk before she let us put her in her stroller. As a nation we have witnessed countless acts of hatred, racism, and violence (many of these acts were always in existence but were made more visible, thanks to technology, to those of us who were privileged enough to not experience them before). We have also witnessed the democratic process of our federal republic fall under attack multiple times, in multiple different ways. And we have seen similar large and small events happen across the world. 

“White supremacy is kinda like high fructose corn syrup. Very few people would purchase a bottle of it for themselves, but it’s cheap, palatable, effective, unhealthy and is an ingredient in just about everything.”

“To me the experience of opening my eyes to white supremacy was like realizing the HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) was a component in everything I picked up off the shelf at the supermarket… even in the things you wouldn’t expect. Just a constant refrain of “Seriously? It’s in this too?””

“Those who are adversely affected though will be rigorous in identifying it because a failure to do so is harmful. They will look harder and find more.”

This tweet really frames my state of mind right now. Especially the last paragraph. And, I don’t know about you, but I am constantly emotionally tired thinking about this. I get easily overwhelmed each time a new tragedy unfolds, a new horrific event happens, a new hurtful statement is said (especially when it was something I did not realize was harmful and did not speak out against). It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting and I struggle to keep energy to care anymore about events that do not affect me personally. 

And wow, the red flags pop up in my head. 

I know this attitude shows how privileged I am. 

I know these issues are bigger than me. 

I know…

I know. 


“You are not a machine. You are more like a garden. You need different things on different days. A little sun today, a little less water tomorrow. You have fallow and fruitful seasons. It is not a design flaw. It is wiser than perpetual sameness. What does your garden need?” 

“If you expect a garden to ‘produce’ things with the same regularity and sameness as a machine, you will be disappointed. If you try to maintain a garden the same way you would a machine, you will destroy it. The same is true of your body and emotional life. Give into your garden.” 

And I am reminded that when you are on a plane, the stewards tell you that in case of an emergency put the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others. 

And so I can breathe… 


…and then take a step forward. 

… So, here’s a step:

What if you read the tweet above and swap out the metaphor of the garden meaning your body and you made the garden mean action and advocacy (all action and advocacy)? 

Read it again. Go ahead. I’ll wait… 

Advocacy is not a machine. It is a living and breathing thing. It needs different things on different days. 

So the same things that were effective in the past may not be effective today. And those that are effective today may not have been in the past… go on…

If you expect advocacy to “produce” things with the same regularity and sameness as a machine, you will be disappointed.

So if you are finding that things aren’t working… or when you do the same thing as before but the results are different now… maybe try something new. We can all learn new tricks and listen to new ideas. Just because you have seen it before does not mean you know the right answer today. Today is a new day. Of course, there are always lessons to be learned from the past, too. 

And now I must take a breath.

“To ground is to pour your energies back into the earth and feel the warm calm of nature entering your body in exchange.”

I think a previous In Between Sundays reflection of mine mentions my small plate and how I get easily overwhelmed. The above “step” I just took was about as much as I can hold at a time. I have to chew thoughts like these like a cow and pass it through many stomachs. I have to recenter myself with this new perspective before I can take action based off of it.

So, I am working on my garden this spring and summer. I am going to sow the seeds of many new beliefs, ideas, and plan(t)s. I am going to tend to them as best as I can, given each day is different and new. I am going to be flexible in my convictions and steadfast to my moral compass. Some things will be short-lived like cauliflower, others will give great abundance like string beans, and some will take years to even come to maturity like asparagus (which I am so excited for!). 

I will accept that what grows, grows. 

And what doesn’t grow is a moment I can learn from. 

And most of all, I am going to be kind, yet firm, with myself and others because we are all gardens. Different types of gardens in different levels of growth. Different seasons of fruitfulness and fallowness. And no matter where we are in our journeys, we can still continue to help each other learn, adapt, and flourish since each day is a new day with new challenges. 

If you try to maintain a garden the same way you would a machine, you will destroy it.

Give into your garden.


P.S. Here is another step…

If you are like me and get stuck, sometimes virtual workshops are a nice way to rest and act by listening to those who have different knowledge than you. Consider attending the Jubilee 3 Workshop (it’s virtual!) with fellow UUs. It is a wonderful way to continue that search for truth and meaning.


  1. Laurie Coltri

    Thank you for this wonderful, wise, comforting, exhortation to hang in there with justice work. It’s full of helpful metaphors. (I especially love the simile of white supremacy being like corn syrup – harmful, addictive to many, and hidden everywhere. To spin out the metaphor even a little further, the ubiquity of corn syrup is a public-health crisis.)

    Trying something in the past and later discovering there are still big problems is no indictment of the past or the progress made in the past. Even flat-out mistakes are valuable if we learn from them. And progress is often followed by retrenchment. I think it’s vital to honor the past, and those who worked these fields in the past, while planting ever newer and better gardens in the present, building on what the past has taught. And to know that fallow periods are OK and necessary, in an otherwise engaged life. I would add that fallow-ness is different for different people – longer, shorter, and having diverse qualities.

    I so appreciate this community full of wise, caring, gentle, angry, creative and generous people. And so glad that it includes Hannah Nelson.

  2. Mark Gorkin

    Hannah, one might say your essay itself is a compact garden. You planted ideas/seeds in open-minded soil, added some reflection and emotion, tears and joy, and labor of love is bearing sweet and soul nourishing fruit. Amen and women, to that! MG

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