Just over a week ago I wrote an exuberant post about the Cherished Children’s community vegetable garden. Sadly, just hours after writing that post I discovered that the garden had been vandalized. No one knows exactly what happened as it occurred after hours. The staff showed up one morning to find tomato and cucumber plants ripped up and thrown into piles. The tires holding the sweet potato beds had been picked up and thrown into the corners of the garden. The dirt we had hauled in was scattered about. The only clues as to what happened were a gate left ajar and the destruction left behind.
Although we don’t know what happened during the night, I am very aware of everyone’s reaction. The children were devastated. They had worked so hard on this garden and now it was destroyed. The staff was angry and confused. Why would someone violate them in this way? What kind of person destroys a veggie garden tended by five year olds?
God bless the teachers at CC as they didn’t let the hurt and the anger get the best of them. When I arrived one day after the vandalism, I found half dead plants that had been re-rooted in beds that were pieced back together. Some of the dirt was still gone and many of the plants looked like they would not make it, but not for lack of someone trying hard to save them.
Myself, after I got over the shock of the damage, there was only one thought in my mind.
We have to replant.
I just couldn’t let these little kids watch death and destruction have the last word. True we could not keep the bad guys out. True they had hurt us. But when destruction strikes, do we just lay down, give up, and die?
The answer to that has to be No. For sadly, having their garden destroyed by angry teenagers is most likely not the worst fate many of these kids will suffer. Some of them are growing up in rough neighborhoods and will face violence, death, and destruction again and again and again in their lives. They might as well learn now how to be resilient. How to keep their lights shining in the midst of the darkness.
If nothing else, I wanted them to be able to look into the face of violence and to know that there are more choices than just fight back or give up. There is also a choice to gird yourself up and keep rebuilding.
I didn’t have any new plants to put in the ground that day. Instead we went ahead with the project we had already planned, building a scarecrow. I had intended the scarecrow to keep away the birds that surround the property. Little did I know as I was planning my talk with them about how we have to protect the garden from invaders, the invaders would be people and not birds.
As we built our scarecrow that day, I watched distracted and distressed little one come back to life. We made our scarecrow full and sassy, stuffing its arms big and embracing its tendency to cock its hips. It now stands facing the garden as if it will snap its fingers at any lurking bird, fox, or human and say, “mmmt.. think again.”
Yesterday was garden day again and we did replant. The kids seemed mostly recovered and excited about putting more things in the ground. For me though, it was still a sad day. As I gathered up all the dead plants and tried to pile the dirt deep enough to plant new ones, grief sat on my heart. Grief that something we had worked so hard on and that was going so well took a big hit. But also grief that life has to be so hard for these kids starting life in a low income preschool. That most likely nothing will come easy for them. That they will have to learn to fight for what is good and lifegiving for them.
I grieved also for the older kids that had chosen to tear the garden up. I kept thinking of Donald Miller’s description in Father Fiction of adolescent elephants who lack an older male leader. These young elephants just roam around the forest, tearing it up with their unchanneled aggression. As much as we were trying to do a good thing by teaching young children to grow and eat veggies, apparently we were doing nothing for the teenage boys with no mentor to show them the way.
At the end of the morning we had pretty much put the garden back together. Even though the damage had been mostly repaired, I felt like the holes ripped in my mind by nagging questions were still hanging open.
Would the repaired garden thrive enough to give us actual food for these eager children?
Would the vandals just come again and destroy our new work?
Why is rebuilding so much harder than starting from scratch?
I still don’t have answers to all these questions. But I do stand by the one answer I know.
When bad guys, who probably aren’t really as bad as they are broken, come and tear things up, you have to Re-build
(and rebuild, and rebuild).
I’ll keep you updated on the story of the garden. Until then if you are a pray-er or a good-vibe sender, would you please lift up our little garden project with its precious children and dedicated teachers? And the people who in a moment of aggression or restlessness chose to tear it apart? That redemption, healing, and loads of good veggies would come to all?