Just as the rest of the world is wrestling with what to make of this fashionable varietee of first ladying, Michelle Obama has taken up the surprising practice of gardening. One might guess with all the scrutiny she is likely to receive that this is not her first venture into such homemaking deeds. There are so many directions from which to analyze this, but for me the study is a personal one. Last year, when it seemed that my whole world had been pulled out from under me like a fast moving rug, I stopped everything. I did nothing but sit at home and take care of my children. When it seemed that I could manage that okay, I decided to plant a garden. not a big plot, just a 6X6 little patch of dirt under a shady tree to shield my would-be veggies from the harsh sunlight of my hotdusty locale.
And I was astonished at the successes my little plants had. I don’t know much about gardening and just tried to plant things that I had helped grow in my family yard and at my grandmother’s place from my childhood. I hadn’t watch a seedling burst through the ground outside of discovery-channel stop-motion for what seemed like many, many years. So last year when all hell had broken loose around me and I was floundering for my bearings in a new reality, a new life – helping my seedlings to grow into beautiful, organic and delicious plants that graced our dining and were shared in the community brought back to me a sense of accomplishment, a source of pride, and feeling of peacefulness. Is it perfected? Hell no! But working my garden has proven to be a life-affirming source of goodness that gives back to me when the world just sucks me dry. I can see why my grandmother was so keen to do it when her children left her and her husband was gone and she had no one to care for or to care for her.
Though Michelle Obama has significant pressures and responsibilities – to her children, to her family, to her community, to our nation… I can imagine that being in that garden at the White House and giving to plants who will, in turn, give back, is a great source of calm. Just the kind of sentiment that many families need right now. A knowledge of an urbanite-mama who dug a few inches into the ground to make something grow for dinner. And that is an important message for all kinds of families, all over this country. The idea that we already know how to help ourselves, if we just get a little dirty, give a little to the earth and we will get back plenty in return. It is a simple and simply elegant message: that through the practice of being, doing, acting – we could fix some small part of our troubles and worry a little less so as to tackle the bigger problems of the day. And the time it takes to take on these new habits, ways of being are so simply minuscule in the grand scheme of our days. It took me a weekend to set up my garden. It takes a few minutes a week to clear the area of weeds and encroaching crabgrass. I spend a little time, a few times a week in watering the area – even in my current desert location where the summer sun can bake the earth at 115 degrees. M.Obama, who is a far cry busier than myself, is showing us that this can be done, we can help ourselves.
Leading by example is the way of the Obama legacy. Our best duty as a citizens, is to follow the leader we overwhelmingly chose to show us the way.