Yard work has never been my hobby. I’ve mostly avoided it with varying degrees of success until the last few months. During our time of sheltering in place, I started trying to figure out what to do with some “problem areas” in our front and back yard. The first thing I did was trim back an overgrown and unhealthy Japanese Maple tree. Within a few days it was brighter, standing taller, and a general ray of sunshine in our front yard. So happy with this progress, I decided to start trimming back the boxwoods in our front yard that had not survived due to too many seasons without pruning and a misplaced ladder when we had our house painted a year or more ago. Trimming them back to stumps cleared out a lot of space.
Next, I took on the salvation of a hydrangea bush that was just about choked by a neighboring tree and some really aggressive weeds. It has recovered well and is producing the most beautiful light blue blooms this year. From there I moved to the side of our driveway where many weeds were growing and covering up flowering plants of various kinds that were really trying to grow. I got about 2/3 of the way between the top of the driveway and the street when I discovered about 500,000 ants intermingled in the weeds and the trees and plants I was attempting to rescue. That project is on hold.
Then I turned my focus on the back yard and a large, beautiful tulip poplar tree that was being invaded by English ivy. I’ve seen many a sign on the side of the road reading, “English ivy kills trees,” so I started to worry about this beautiful old friend. I asked our lawn service to help get the ivy on that side of the yard under control, and they did what one is supposed to do to the ivy around the tree: cut the ivy off near the base of the tree trunk. A few days later, I couldn’t stand it anymore, and I went out and started pulling ivy off the trunk of the tree above where the roots had been cut. What I should have done was to continue removing the problem at it’s root. What I actually did was to remove the ivy that was the most optically offensive. When the first piece of bark came off in my hand, I took a step back and realized that what I had done made me feel better, but it would cause harm to the tree I was trying to help.
This is where I am right now. I am looking around at things over which I have any control and trying to find ways to remove embedded racism. I’m giving careful attention to where I spend money. I’m thinking about what I read and what I watch. I’m thinking about the ways I talk, the implicit bias with which I live, and many other things about my life I have not given much thought regarding the implicit advantage I have because I am white.
It is hard to do that. It hurts. It is embarrassing. It calls into question many, many assumptions I’ve either explicitly or implicitly lived with forever. And it feels like there is just nothing I can do to remove racism from my existence.
But I can’t give up. We can’t give up. We may not always agree on the “how”, but I call on all of us (myself included) to examine the “why” of the anti-racist work we are doing and are going to do. For me, the “why” begins with the promise in our United Methodist baptismal covenant to reject the evil powers of this world and resist evil and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. Out of that promise, the work of God in us and through us can surely grow.
Can we promise to do that work together?
I left the rest of the ivy on that tree in my yard. I don’t like the way it looks. It reminds me of our neglect of that tree, and I don’t like how that feels. It also reminds me to stop the neglect and to pull that ivy out of the ground from now on before it ever gets up the tree trunk. It reminds me to do everything I can to dismantle the root of the problem. When I do that, the rest of the ecosystem of my yard will be healthier. The tree will not die and fall on our house. And that tree and I will have a relationship now that will last as long as we both do.
Let’s look at the ground around us and get to pullin.’