I was weeding the garden this morning, absolutely the most fun and exciting aspect of gardening, said no gardener EVER. Seriously, wouldn’t you think that when you tell all your friends, and post all over Facebook, that you’re going to attempt your first-ever vegetable garden, at least one person would love you enough to forego all the you go, girls and just say, hey, don’t forget the part about sitting in dirt full of manure and trying to pull out a gazillion little tenacious weeds, which, by the way, are going to reappear after the next rain so you get to do it all over again?
But anyway. I was weeding the garden and thinking that task could bore the spots off a leopard when I remembered something my dad told back when I was just a kid. It must have been when I was in the fourth grade. I say that because I thought my fourth grade teacher was an idiot. She wasn’t, of course, but I, in all my nine-year-old wisdom, thought she was. And she didn’t have such a hot opinion of me either. In retrospect, that may be because my nine-year-old self wasn’t mature enough (read: smart enough) to refrain from rolling my eyes and sighing whenever I thought she said something dumb. Which I thought frequently.
Anyway, I digress. One of the things I thought was just stupid was our weekly spelling homework. We got a list of spelling words that we had to write out five hundred times each. Okay, maybe ten times each but it felt like five hundred. I was a voracious reader from the time I could sound out “See Spot run,” and like most voracious readers, I was a good speller. I could see a word once or twice at best and know how to spell it, and I was way above grade level at reading and spelling. (I’m not bragging on myself, I’m bragging on my parents. This is a plug to all you parents out there to read to your kids and get them excited about books.)
So imagine a very active nine year old having to sit down week after week and write out five hundred words, like dear and aunt and bubble, five hundred times each. Okay ten words ten times each. Same-o same-o to a nine year old. I hated it. I thought it was stupid. Let’s write “stupid” five hundred times.
One time I was discussing this with my dad. “Discussing” sounds much better than “whining and complaining.” I told him how stupid and boring it was. I knew all the words. I got 100 percent on my spelling tests every week, and not because I wrote out the words over and over again.
My dad did not tell me to quit whin… quite discussing the matter and just do what I was told. He did not poo-poo my preadolescent rant. He listened, and then he told me that throughout my life I was going to find myself in boring, tedious situations. I was going to find myself doing things that had to be done but which did not hold my interest. My choice, he said, was to be consumed by the tedium of my task or to find a way to make it interesting. (You have to love a dad who uses the word “tedium” with a nine year old.) Anything can be interesting, he said, if you find a way for it to challenge your mind.
Dad took my list of spelling words and told me to make up a story as I wrote out the words using each of the words in order in the story. I had a dear aunt who lived in a giant bubble …. From then on, writing out my spelling words became a lot more fun, and my love of writing stories emerged.
So today as I was weeding, I remembered Dad’s advice and wondered how I could challenge my mind with this onerous task. Nothing brilliant occurred to me. The sun was hot, and it’s incredibly humid here in Missouri, and by the way there are bugs in a garden. Anyone ever tell you that? Humph.
But as I pulled the weeds I found myself feeling very satisfied when they came out with their roots intact and irritated when they would snap off at the surface, because I knew then that they would just grow back. And a thought niggled at my mind, and I found myself composing a blog post in my head.
And so weeding the second half of the garden went much faster and was much more pleasant than weeding the first half. My mind was fully engaged in composing an analogy of weeds in a garden and the weeds of sin and hate and evil in our world. When your mind is engaged in thought, it doesn’t really matter what your hands are doing; there’s still something interesting going on. (Plus the second half of the garden is where the herbs are so instead of the smell of good old cow dirt I was surrounded by rosemary and basil, hence the “much more pleasant” aspect.)
I’ll write up that post about weeds and get it on here sometime soon. But this post is just a hats-off to my dad, an unassuming man whom no one would look twice at on the street but whose mind never stopped and who taught me that boredom is always a choice, that a person with a brain has an endless capacity for self-entertainment.
Just one little suggestion, though – if you’re weeding a garden, don’t get so lost in your head that you forget to stop pulling the weeds when you feel a sneeze coming on, or you might end up with a handful of sage instead of weeds.
I guess we’ll have pork chops with sage and cinnamon for dinner tonight.