The summer I first began gardening, I turned fresh compost into the beds, planted seeds, and watched the veggies grow—those I’d planted as well as an extraordinary number of squash upstarts. I thought those self-starters were wonderful and in a show of democracy accepted the compost’s contribution to my garden. Until squash vines choked out everything we’d planted and left us in the fall with a pile of uneatable gourds.
A tender heart does not a good gardener make.
I thought I’d learned this lesson, but then I recently attended a class on fruit trees and realized I have once again let enthusiasm for life override my better judgment. Those clusters of blossoms I rejoiced over in the spring, which had turned into apple bunches, in fact should have been pinched back so a single apple could fully mature. Our apples are stunted, half their potential size.
Destruction and creation go hand-in-hand. This is a hard lesson to learn, especially if you have an irresistible drive for creation, like me. Anything growing, becoming, developing, transforming, or emerging really gets my heart pumping. I’ve always associated life force with divinity. As a result my days are exuberant but overrun, much like that garden of gourds. Or they’re packed like those apple bunches—sweet, ripe, but without the space to flourish.
The tradition of my upbringing names God as Creator, not Destroyer, but I’m beginning to wonder whether this isn’t an oversight. I’ll always remember a funeral I attended where a potter as part of her eulogy held up a plate she’d created and smashed it, she was so angry at losing her friend. She then told us the pieces would go back into her slop bucket, where they’d soften and become the raw material for her next project. Who knows what God makes of us? she asked. Who knows why?
I don’t mean to imply that God prunes human beings (what an awful thought). I do, however, want to embrace the truth that destruction is a necessary and even holy part of creation. Pinching brand new apple buds off the tree is counterintuitive and difficult for me, as are saying no to new volunteer opportunities or chances to attend performances or read the books others recommend. But cutting back makes space for growth, and both are good. Choosing life we also choose death. And both are good.
–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew