Monday, April 07, 2014


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (3/29/2014)


          The most boring word in the English language is the pronoun “I” and its colleagues, “me,” “mine,” and “my,” and “myself.”  The reason is simple.  Not many people are interesting enough to sustain a conversation about themselves.  The late, great historian, Arnold Toynbee, once said, “Not many autobiographies are worthwhile because not many people live noteworthy lives.”  Most of us rate only a paragraph or two.


          This, however, does not dissuade people from talking about themselves, even the most humdrum tidbits: trips to the grocery store, indignations, prescriptions, or aches and pains.  Even fascinating war stories stale with age.  Ask any war veteran.  Perhaps, the worst are those who purportedly want to comfort someone in grief by telling the grief-stricken their own tales of grief. 


          Human beings are the only animals who have a fully developed sense of self-consciousness.  This doesn’t mean that the higher animals don’t have a sense of themselves, such as memories or emotions.  Charles Darwin wrote, “Nevertheless, the difference between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree, not of kind.”  However, animals other than human beings never seem to suffer the “terrible two’s” when the “I” emerges as “No!”  Sadly, lots of people never get past “No!”  They’re called “oppositional personalities.”  Albert Camus writes: “In rebellion awareness is born.”


          Of course, the sense of “I” is what inhibits human communication because the self gets entangled in the communication.  This is what’s so great about dogs.  They have a sense of themselves, and, yet, they aren’t burdened by an “I.”  They understand touch, the basic form of communication, and certainly taste, hearing, and smell.  Human beings entangle themselves in words, thinking that words create a reality.  Only God can create by a word (Genesis 1.)  Human beings, especially academics and bureaucrats, often think their dicta are creative, but they are delusional.  Announcements, policies, and studies aren’t enough to make reality.


          One of the reasons that dogs are so good at therapy is that they don’t bring along the baggage of “I” into the relationship.  They’re simply “there,” wanting to be close, sharing the moment.  There are no “hidden agendas.” 


          The grief-stricken want touch, not words, certainly not autobiographies.  A touch and some tears.  Saint Paul wrote that there are “sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).  Sometimes there are no words.


          I watch meine Überfrau garden by touch.  Every time she passes an English ivy plant on the coffee table in our living room, she runs her hands through its leaves and stems in exactly the same way she runs her hands through our Labrador retrievers’ fur.  The ivy has survived, flourished, prevailed for nigh unto 12 years.  I can almost hear it sigh.  And she does it is with all the plants inside and outside our house.  She even talks to the pines.


          I doubt that the English ivy plant has a sense of “I,” but it does communicate by flourishing, the same way that children do when they are touched and cuddled.


           One of the delightful things about gardening is planting onion sets in March.  For one thing, it’s beating the alleged short gardening season of ninety days.  Onions are a natural season extender.  It’s getting one’s hands in the soil and letting it filter through one’s fingers.  It’s also relishing a dog’s fur, caressing a child, and embracing a loved one.  There is no substitute.


          Gardening is often considered the province of the botanists and horticulturalists, and while they may have something to contribute, gardening is actually a spiritual experience, a sense of the presence of Another.  Nearly everyone senses the Presence, save the spiritual flatliners.  The sense begins in our mother’s arms and on her breasts and with the timbre of her voice — touch, sound, and taste.  It can continue throughout lives if we diminish the “I” and attend to what we experience.  One sure way to make a garden thrive is to caress it, speak to it, and taste it, allowing the soil to caress us as it runs through our fingers.   

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2014

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at and blogs at





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