Monday, February 23, 2009


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (2/17/09)

James Reeb, a social worker in a Boston slum and Unitarian Universalist minister, was clubbed to death by racist thugs in Selma, Alabama, March 9, 1965, as he left a restaurant on his way to a meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., at the Brown Chapel. He died in a Birmingham hospital on the 11th, forty-four years ago. The Greek word martur means "witness." Jim bore witness.

We'd been in the Army together but had seen each other only once in about twenty years until that day in Selma. We spoke briefly and went our ways. Then down the street I heard a commotion and saw a rush of people and police. Jim was being beaten to death. As I tried to break through the crowd, the police hustled me to the jail and then the bus station and told to get out of town.

The thugs were later tried and acquitted to the cheers.

I remember the eyes of death in faces of the crowd and the police. The same eyes of death afflict our modern culture, the racial wisecrackers, the denigrators of women, the purveyors of hate and violence. However, we seldom see them in the eyes of gardeners. The reason is simple, gardeners love life. Now, there are a lot of nut bags, cranks, grumps, ditzes, and scolds amongst gardeners, but behind their often odd behaviors is a love of life, else they wouldn't plant and seed year after year. Theirs is "a peaceable kingdom."

Not only to do they plant and seed, they also care for living things as well, but beyond that they deal with death as lovers of life. Lovers of death don't deal well with death because they don't believe in life. Inexplicably, growing things die, and, as such, there is always in a garden the mystery of death. Gardeners never quit, they just seed and plant again. Never forsaking hope, abiding in faith, they love life.

The lovers of death tend to get fixed on things past, arrested in the recesses of their own histories, hoarding their grievances, treasuring their indignations. The lovers of life move on, aware that they are writing their own histories in the moment. They move forward. If a plant doesn't thrive on one spot in the garden, gardeners find a new spot. If it doesn't thrive in the new spot, they'll try a different plant.

Lovers of death have difficulty with nature's inevitability and divine irony. They have trouble with brick walls. They like to run into them head first. They believe the old adage, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." Gardeners will more than likely rewrite the old adage, "If at first you don't succeed, find out why, and then do it smarter the second time." Plants cannot be forced to thrive where they don't want to thrive. Not many people realize it, but plants have choices, too, and some of them don't it like it high, dry, cold, and windy. They like it low, humid, hot, and still. Some like swamps.

Gardeners not only love life, they like to share it, always trading and sharing seeds, plants, and tips. They push their cuttings on their friends and neighbors, giving them flowers and vegetables, often times more zucchini than their neighbors ever want to see again. They're always happy to talk with total strangers about their flowers and vegetables, even inviting them to tour their backyards. Sometimes, they look a little zany in their enthusiasms.

Also, gardeners thrive in adversity, else they wouldn't garden in Flagstaff'. Very little daunts them, be it weather or pestilence. They rise to the challenge, believing in life in the face of adversity, as in growing tomatoes in the High Country.

The Church of Scotland's prayers of thanksgiving at a funeral read, "We thank Thee for the goodness and truth that have passed from their lives into the lives of others, and made the world richer for their presence." Gardeners make the world richer for their presence with goodness and truth as well as beauty and life. The proof is in their eyes. They're bright with a love of life.

Copyright© Dana Prom Smith 2009

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
--Reinhold Niebuhr--

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