Friday, July 14, 2006


Weeds are but beauty too prolific. I don't know who said it, I suppose I could Google it, but I'm a bit discouraged about Google since I heard they are coming to my town and according to the Ann Arbor News, they want to hire you if you are smart and "really good at a sport." Does that rule out people in wheelchairs?

Anyway, a friend and I were talking about weeds. How sometimes the weeds mix in and they can be just as beautiful, or at least provide some balance, in a garden. And then I thought about bees, and how some bees aren't really bees at at all, but they pollinate, like bees. So I wrote this.

Weeds, Darling

“It’s a weed, darling,”

he said, looking down

his nose at my admiring stoop.

Tiny yellow flowers,

leaves so narrow they

looked like stems:

a tiny bee fly

hovered above

one of the blossoms.

“It’s all the same

to the bees, love,”

I said, without looking up.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Putting food by

My mother taught me to put food by.

In the Michigan summers of my youth, for about a month, she was always putting something by -— freezing strawberries, blueberries, peaches, green beans, making pickles and relishes, even one or two years canning tomatoes. One year we called it her “drunken corn relish” because the two of us drank wine, laughing and singing, while we cut to corn off the cobs and cooked the sweet summer harvest in cider vinegar and spices. I can still remeber how the kitchen smelled making that relish, and how I felt ushered into adulthood that year.

I haven’t put much food by in recent years: about the only provision I would make for winter was freezing blueberries. Something about this move to Ann Arbor awakened in me a desire to do it again.

I am quite grateful to California growers for the strawberries we get all year long. But there is simply nothing like a Michigan berry. The perennial plant must need the rest of our harsher winters to produce the little gems. The only way to pick them is ripe: they can’t be picked ahead and then ripened for market. Bright red, and small, with more seeds than the California berry we’ve grown used to, when you first see them your heart leaps. Summer is really here at last, and nothing will do but to cart some home and have shortcake for dinner.

I knew I’d have to put some by this year.

So yesterday Ben and I went to the market and bought 20 pounds of blueberries and 16 quarts of strawberries. When I found the berry vendor and asked for 16 quarts, he said, recognizing the quantity meant I was going to do more than eat a meal, “It’s a good thing you got here, young lady, this is the last day.” By the tremor in his hands, he'd been farming many years, and I was young to him.

For the next three or four hours, I washed, topped, sliced, sugared and bagged, eating a few with each newly washed batch. Ben ate quite a few too. My hands were stained red and wrinkled, my fingers cramped from the cutting. Even the sugar was Michigan sugar, made from sugar beets grown in the thumb. I did the strawberries first, because blueberries are easier.

Today my hands are still stained, but the bright red has faded to a darker color, and only where my fingers were nicked and around the edges of my nails. And in the freezer, I have a whole Michigan winter’s worth of summer.

When Ben and I open that first bag, probably sometime in late November, I will remember again how the first of my mother’s watermelon pickles tasted, or the sweetness of that first taste of her corn relish. You pop that summer bounty into your mouth and the snow outside disappears. All you know is the sweet and tart of your own labor. Maybe more of us should put food by: who knows? It could change the world, one sweet bite at a time.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Doormats, Deuteronomy and Dissing the Self

Caution: the following contains explicitly religious language. Don't read this if you're offended by a reference or two to fundamental religious concepts. On the other hand, you won't find this interpretation of tradional religious beliefs in any church I ever went to, so you probably won't be too offended if you venture in.

I am not responsible for the happiness of others.

I am responsible for treating people with kindness, for helping to relieve suffering, and for making sure there is enough of me left to continue to exist. I am responsible for loving my neighbor as myself.

That means loving me too. In fact, it is only in loving myself equally with my neighbor that I can accomplish this commandment. When asked what was the most important commandment, a trick question designed to make him falter, the clever rabbi Jesus gave his own revolutionary interpretation of Shema. Second only to loving God as ancient law required was this loving my neighbor as myself commandment. In fact, he believed these two commandments to be the only really important ones. That’s why, years ago as a Sunday school teacher, I had the kids build mezuzot and inscribe that passage on a small piece of paper to place inside. Mine is in a mezuzah hung by my front door, and that passage is supposed to govern all my actions on leaving and entering my home. For those of you new to ideas about the Shema, check it out in Deuteronomy 6:5-9, then check out how masterfully Jesus recited this elemental prayer for his audience according to the New Testament.

Of course, Jesus also shared his pearls with women freely, and if even the church canon is correct, included women, gasp, in the most important events of his ministry, albeit in somewhat secodnary roles. Yet many centuries of women, subject to the misogynist Christian church and its oppressive ways, got it wrong: we were told to forget the second half of that important commandment and love only the other. It’s why I say “I’m sorry,” when someone else hurts me. It’s why I say “Excuse me,” and even mean it, when someone else cuts in front of me. Our culture condones that on the part of women, and teaches us to be selfless to the point of actual self-sacrifice, that is the annihilation of self in order to preserve the other. We have been doormats to centuries of people who tromp all over our selves. Often, those with the banner of Christianity held high above their arrogant heads trod us completely out of existence, literally.

If you really take Christianity to its logical conclusion, and if you believe all the stories about Jesus' death and resurrection, then you must also believe that Jesus died so we didn’t have to. Loving yourself as you love others is an essential piece of that puzzle. Reading Christian teaching clearly we can see that god wants us to “self-actualize,” to use a smarmy new-age phrase, as long as we also possess compassion and empathy.

Without the healthy love of self, combined with a true love of our neighbor, we can’t make it at all. We can limp along dispensing pieces of ourselves until there is nothing left, or we can preserve ourselves, making ourselves whole, and then, as whole persons, minister to others the love of true children of god.

You can’t love yourself until you know yourself, either, and that takes time and study.

I can’t love myself until I have the courage to say what I will and won’t tolerate. When confronted with situations which require acceptance of unacceptable behavior, I need to say no, I won’t be tread on this way. Wipe your feet somewhere else.