Pulling Up Stakes

This weekend it was time to clean out the raised beds. It was sorrowful work. It’s been exciting and fulfilling watching the seeds sprout, and the flowers turn into fruit. And there was fruit! I learned different ways to prepare Swiss chard, kale (two different kinds that continue to produce), and collards because there was so much of it. I’ve blanched and frozen so many quart bags of beans we’ll be eating them until it’s time to plant beans again in the spring. And those lush tomato plants provided Southern ‘mater sandwiches for weeks on end, and cherry tomatoes for salads or simply to snack on while out working in the beds. There is much gratitude for the veggies.

So even though I know the season is over, it was a little hard untying the strings for beans, and pulling up the stakes for tomatoes. There were green tomatoes that I knew would never ripen. While our days are still hot, they are cooling daily by a degree or two, it’s the sun’s arc that’s visibly shifting, announcing the shortening of our days. I left the two cherry tomato plants hoping maybe ‘just a little longer . . .’ So there was – still is – a touch of melancholy as I shook dirt off roots and cleaned up filigreed leaves.

As I worked I couldn’t help but think of the evacuation from Afghanistan, the bombing in Kabul. No, I’m not comparing my veggies to the servicemen and women and the Afghanis. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, gardening and nature have a way of opening our eyes, of teaching us something. What struck me were the thoughts of being at the end of a season.

I, like most everyone I know, remembers 9/11 and finds it hard to comprehend this year marks the 20th anniversary. I can also remember being in class with my youth ministry kids and getting a phone call to pray because the United States and our Allies had just orchestrated the first retaliation. I remember my stomach turning–again–just like it did watching the towers fall, because I understood that war had started. I looked at my class of Juniors and Seniors, disproportionately boys to girls and remembered that years earlier someone had remarked it was a class of soldiers. I wondered how many of them would end up serving – several did, including my son. There is much gratitude for my students, and several of my high school classmates, who served and made it home.

Twenty years is a long time. There are some who say it’s not long enough, maybe just a little longer . . . There are those who shout on Facebook that the evacuation was wrong, we handled it wrong, this isn’t how America is; and all the while implying the Government and those who don’t align with their ideals aren’t supporting our troops and are somehow discounting the work our men and women did.

This post is not intended to be political, so while I understand their need for Monday morning quarterbacking, at least the people I know personally who post these messages have never held political office, have never served in the military, have never been to a war zone to cover the action for a news outlet. They’ve never been in the rooms where those decisions and judgments are made and have to be carried out. I wonder if they take the time and consider how difficult and heart-wrenching it must be to face the end of a season and realize it’s time to pull up stakes, the challenges of making that happen.

It may be the end of our season in Afghanistan, that does not mean it’s also the end of the season for the Afghanis themselves. Will there always be fighting in this region of the world? Probably? But someone once told me a pendulum never swings all the way back; things will not return completely to the way things were before. The country itself isn’t the same as it was then. The world is not the same. I choose to believe our presence made a difference, and there is a glimmer of hope in that.

Twenty years is a long time. There are women in Afghanistan who were in their twenties when we arrived, who are now in their forties. They remember, and won’t forget, what life was like twenty-one years ago. There are women who were babies, or not yet born, who know nothing but the way things have been for the last twenty years. They will not forget. There is hope in the seeds that were planted.

Hope doesn’t mean sitting back and doing nothing, waiting for things to happen and get better. It simply means there’s a foundation for a different kind of hard work. I trust our country–the government, military, everyday citizens (including those who spout off on Facebook)–will discover and create that new hard work.

I picked all the green tomatoes to make green tomato chutney; the debris from the beds went into the woods and compost. Nothing was wasted. In South Carolina we have weather for fall and winter crops so the greens and root veggies will be planted in the next week or so. The beds are ready. As one season ends, another begins.

My prayers continue for those in Afghanistan, and especially for the men and women of our military who deserve to be home with their families. And always, there is a debt of gratitude for their unselfish service.

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