Garlic Mustard, Perfection, and Grace

Yesterday I stood in my yard, arms full of garlic mustard, and felt absolutely terrible.

It was hotter than average for this time of year (isn't it always now?), and my rubber boots stuck to my bare legs as I stepped carefully around my medicine plants in search of the invaders. Physical discomfort, sure, but the real problem was the knot of tension forming at my core as I looked around at all the unfinished business before me. Plants out of place, plants to be planted and bare spots to fill, and last autumn's leaves to rake out of the pathways.

How, after years of tending this small piece of land, was there still so much to do? After all this time, how was I still struggling to hold all this garlic mustard at bay? In fact, this year it seemed to come back worse than usual...was anything I'd done up to now worth it? Had it made any difference?

Finally the knot grew into such a feeling of overwhelm that it stopped me in my tracks. I realized I was shifting every perceived shortcoming I saw around me into self-blame. The knot started to clarify, take shape, and it looked like me not being good enough.

I'm a certified permaculture designer. A herbalist. I'm supposed to be an expert. My gardens should be perfect. I should have the absolute best, most wonderful, thriving habitat. But I don't.

As I started spiraling down these familiar paths of shame, a little voice in my head tugged me back to reality: of course you still have to pull up garlic mustard every spring - it's all over your neighborhood! It's everywhere. There are massive nations of it lining every roadside. Of course it will reseed itself and come back. Why are you blaming yourself when this is something that is so far out of your control? Why are you ignoring any progress you've made because things aren't "perfect"? 

I suspect many of us feel a similar urgency and anxiety when it comes to the state of our gardens and our planet. Things seem so bad at times that we think, My god, I'd better get a full garden growing to save the pollinators right now. I've got to stop using plastic right now. [Insert specific planet-saving action here] right now.

And then, when we of course cannot do it right away, when it's more challenging than we thought, when we make mistakes, lapse, come up short, we fall into despair and blame ourselves for not being perfect. For not singlehandedly saving the earth and fixing everything.

That's a lot for one person to carry. Wow are we hard on ourselves.

The thing is, the work will never end. The push to make things better will never end. Stuff will always pop up. And then pop up again. There will never come a day when I stand in my yard and say to myself "everything is absolutely perfect, and I've figured everything out and created the best habitat ever and successfully saved the world!" 

It's not a quick race, it's a marathon. We've got to do what we can and then pass the baton forward. A cliche? Probably, but it's still the best metaphor I can think of for making progress happen. Cliches are cliche for a reason.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this applies to all of life. Maybe to the entire human experience. Certainly to the fight for progress, equality, justice, peace. We will not, all on our own, be able to fix everything right now, as fervently as we may want to. We won't be able to change every mind, stop every war, right every wrong. And we will not be able to live perfectly.

Maybe we should give ourselves a little grace.

Just because there is no quick fix, no definite end, does not mean the things we do aren't worth it. Even small stuff moves the needle, prepares the way. Planting one little patch of echinacea in your yard makes a big difference to a little bee. 

It doesn't have to be all or nothing.

It doesn't have to be perfect to be good.


Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

~ Mary Oliver


Be well,

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published