Like planting a garden

It is so easy to focus on what goes–and is going–wrong in society. With our instant news feed, it is virtually impossible not to be aware of the weakening of democracy.
What I tend to forget, when I shudder at the political failings in our own country, is that “progress is never permanent, will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated and reimagined if it is to survive” (the words of Zadie Smith, a British writer penning her thoughts on optimism and despair).
It is a bit like planting my garden. I started seeds indoors, transplanting them outdoors, and direct seeding other crops. Somewhere in my belief system was the thought I only had to plant and the rest would be guaranteed–the harvest a given.
But I had to shelter the juvenile plants from late frost, not all successfully. I had to pull weeds trying to take the lion’s share of water and nutrients from the soil. I had to provide water when Mother Nature was off with her attention on other matters.
I had to chase off raccoons that would rather dine on my peas and pull up my plants than find their own food. And I had to discourage Gracie from napping on top of my beets.
My pumpkins and watermelons are heavy with flowers but the bees haven’t found their way to the plants to give me a hand with pollination. Nothing is guaranteed. I must continue to do my part–to play a role in keeping my garden thriving.
And so, too, must I play a role in ensuring democracy is fed and nurtured; that I don’t take for granted my own meal and forget that others must eat, too.
We always will have those whose greed and personal goals outrank the good of the people for whom they are meant to speak. We elect politicians and assume that is all we must do; that marking our ‘X’ in the appropriate spot is the limit of our engagement with making our community, our country, the world a better place.
Just as the raccoons and weeds want to gobble my garden, I vigilantly must raise my voice to ensure that right and fairness and equality is preserved.
And I must always be an example to my children, and my children’s children, of looking beyond my own table, none of which comes easily.
Walt Whitman, considered America’s greatest poet, credits literature for being “the scaffolding of society’s values,” and he points to ancient Greece and Rome in reminding us that what remains of that time in civilization is their literature–and he wrote his opinions in the late 1860s.
Though Whitman was aware of the failings of elected officials and the tests on democracy, he never stopped expressing his hope and his commitment to knowing we could do better.
It is the Arts, he told us, that will get us through, will keep us on the right track. Not the accumulation of “things,” not the gathering of wealth, but the music of words; the preservation of thoughts on paper.