Our tomato plot looks like a jungle that has not been inhabited by humans for hundreds of years. Trailing branches reach beyond their cages and across what used to be tidy, grass-covered rows to neighboring plants. They intermingle where we used to walk, and hide the growing but still green tomatoes from our sight, occasionally blocking the rare ripe tomato that managed to get just enough sun to reach its maturity. The garden books and age-old lore tell you that tomatoes need to be trimmed frequently to produce to their fullest – that yellowing leaves should be cut so that diseases don’t spread and that the fruit needs air and sun to ripen.
They’re right. It’s true.
But sometimes the time it takes to neatly trim and tidy our tomatoes is time that must be spent elsewhere – working at our “real” jobs, taking care of our children, or finally getting to bed before midnight. We know the tomatoes are out there, growing more each time that beautiful blend of rain and sun blesses our garden, but sometimes we have to just let them be. For now. We’ll get to them later.
The messiness of life does not confine itself to gardens or tomatoes. Life is full of vines that stretch and tangle, taking over space and covering up the fruit that you really want to harvest. Busy schedules, workplace stress, and never-ending house projects tangle themselves over and around the things we want to hold on to but sometimes lose track of. It’s tempting to pay attention to those vines, to struggle our way through them and around them and get frustrated when we can’t reach what’s underneath. Sometimes we even forget what is underneath and pay so much attention to the vines that we let the fruit reach its ripeness and wither before we attend to it. We’re left with a soggy tomato that we end up throwing into the compost bin with hopes we’ll do better the next time.
So where’s the balance? How can we recognize that the weeds and vines are inevitably going to grow (its only natural) while remembering that there is fruit underneath them that we shouldn’t forget? How can we remind ourselves to attend to the beautiful and important things in life without letting them wither and rot away as they are covered by more and more tangles?
My garden has taught me a valuable lesson in knowing when enough is enough. While we cannot attend on a daily basis to the jungle of tomato vines that outpace us, we can find time on a semi-regular basis to get out there and make a dent. Fifteen minutes before we leave for school or an hour on a Saturday morning can provide enough time to dig out 2 or even 3 tomato plants – to clear space for them to breathe in the sun and the summer air again before they give up. Two hours of time taken off while the kids are at school can provide the space for us to clear an entire role. Days later we are harvesting giant red beauties who seem to be saying “thank you” for the attention we have given to them and not holding it against us that it took us a little longer to get to them.
Such is life for these busy parents. Weeks of juggling schedules can go by without taking a time out to have a special date with one our children or a special date of our own. And even our “dates” can feel like things on a to-do list. Only when we slow down and fully recognize that now is the time for us to clear the weeds off of the fruit will we encourage our happiness to grow. It takes intention. It takes specific time set aside for the task. And it takes commitment on our part to get the job done.
The garden will continue to grow and the weeds are inevitable. We cannot always fight them back on a regular basis. But a weedy garden still contains the seeds of happiness that are waiting to be uncovered. The trick is not making them wait too long for our attention.