Beginner's Heart

the author's

the author’s

Seeds are a GREAT metaphor. Unlike gardens… Well, maybe gardens work for some folks, but they don’t work for me when people use them to talk about multiculturalism. Hello, I GARDEN.

At a verrry prestigious fellowship I once received, I sat at a table w/ a lot of pretty traditional academics. There were a few of us (thank you, universe!) who weren’t so traditional (re: hidebound). We were women, and/or black, and/or in disciplines that had to do with cultures very unlike our mother cultures.

This made us more suspect than I had anticipated.

I don’t think I’m naïve. But when people are faculty in fields like philosophy, or religion, I expect them to be … well, more open-minded than closed-. So when we began to discuss the white bread environment of our university, and the white guys said we needed to be more like a garden? The C list (that’s what the five of us called ourselves — note that we weren’t even the B list!) spoke up immediately: So who are the slugs? And who are the unseen but critical earthworms? And who are the beautiful (but kind of useless) roses?? And what about blackspot?? We ALL gardened, and knew that metaphor far too well.


But gardens are pretty, and guys (even white guys) can garden w/out threat to their…privilege. Not so w/ the metaphor the C Listers preferred: Alice Walker’s quilt, the unsung art of nameless women over the centuries. Each piece formerly a working piece of clothing, now stitched next to another, every piece critical to the whole fabric of the quilt top. Like this one pieced decades ago by my great-grandmother. I know, looking at it, that every cloth fragment has a story — much as we do. And every piece at one time provided an important service: dress, shirt, pants, blanket…

I also know that quilts seem like ‘women’s work.’ While gardens are a bit more gender-inclusive. My beloved brother-in-law is one of the best gardeners know — up there w/ my old ladies, who could grow green in asphalt, I swear. Greg has transformed a north Dallas suburban pancake into an ad for Southern Living: garden rooms opening tantalisingly just beyond a corner; a brick path leading beyond your eyesight; water trickling down a wall. And butterflies and birds everywhere.

Me? I’m planting seeds this year. I don’t many years; I buy local baby plants, and tuck them under their own soft quilt of dirt & mulch & leaf mould. But this year, I wanted to dream big, as well as return to my childhood (you can do both, you know!). So I bought Heavenly Blue morning glories and white moonflower, traditional Southern passalong plants, handed from one gardener to the next in the line.

And this summer, as they bloom? I will think of possibility. Of small deeds that grow & blossom. Of beauty that springs from darkness. And of growth. What better metaphor for beginner’s heart?


Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus