These are broken days. It feels like life has been broken by COVID-19, and our basic social discourse — sometimes, the way we simply deal with one another — occasionally feels broken by the current, divisive political climate.
So, whenever something comes along that neutralizes some of the chaos and bridges our divides, even temporarily, I welcome it.
I noticed one of them in the office the other night when I heard an employee here ask a fellow employee a pressing question:
“Do you want some tomatoes?”
That sounded so small town, so cordial, so normal.
It’s the kind of question that gets asked a lot in the lazy back half of each summer as friends, neighbors, co-workers and strangers are harvesting the produce from their gardens. The dreams of spring are once more coming to fruition in typical vengeance.
When a garden doesn’t produce the way one hopes, it’s a big disappointment; when it produces as it should, it often becomes a good kind of problem.
And that leads to one of the best of rituals in small towns like ours. Gardeners bring their tomatoes, squash, sweet corn, cucumbers and whatever else to their offices, churches and any place where people congregate to “pass on their good fortune” to others — which is a kind way of saying they are trying to unload their excess harvest.
I don’t know if this is something done a lot in urban areas, but in these rural places, giving away garden produce is as natural as planting in the spring. If people can’t distribute it to others directly, they often put the produce in boxes or plastic bags and leave them in high-traffic areas of an office, for instance, so that others may take what they want. And if you want enough, you can certainly be well-fed, provided you’re willing to eat zucchini until it’s coming out of your ears.
I’ve always looked at this practice in terms of the human gesture. It’s an object lesson that predates the story of America’s pilgrims: a symbolic sharing of a feast; a token of brotherhood, if not outright friendship; a building of bonds; and, for example, the dispersal of tomatoes before they turn soft and splotchy.
It also creates a communal feeling wherever it occurs, which is why I wish it could happen everywhere. For example, it would be great if, outside of the House or Senate chambers of Congress, a lawmaker could walk by and see a table with a box, filled with squash and corn, bearing a piece of paper with the hand-scrawled message, “Please Take Some.” It might change the outlook in Washington completely.
I think this simple gesture of garden sharing is something we could all use right now.
Our lives really do feel broken by the pandemic, and there’s not much that feels completely normal anywhere. But the act of sharing garden goods with others is like sharing a little normalcy, and it feels good to know that some things are still functioning as they always have.
Then there is the political climate, which is a raw nerve right now and going to get much worse in the next two months, I fear. It’s more personal and much angrier than ever. It’s hard for some people to be around other people, even friends, who have different views on certain topics. But the sharing of garden produce seems to build temporary bridges where these divided factions can at least meet, where good deeds can be done and where appreciation can bloom. Maybe this will all wilt in the weeks to come, but for the moment, a glad tiding of sorts can still exist.
This year’s garden harvest can serve up a reminder of normal times and better days, and it can tell us that we can still share with one another on good terms. It can mend these broken days, a few moments at a time. And that’s a start.
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