The Hope of Sidewalk Victory Gardens

garden sign - image courtesy of Shemaiah Gonzalez

Editor’s note: Throughout July, we’re celebrating 31 Days with St. Ignatius, a month-long celebration of Ignatian spirituality. In addition to the calendar of Ignatian articles found here, posts on dotMagis this month will explore ways of Experiencing God in the Ordinary. The inspiration for our theme is the new book by William A. Barry, SJ.

Our sons, ages 9 and 11, have an energy level our backyard has not served well during quarantine. We live in Seattle, the first area in the country to shut down due to COVID-19, and sometimes it seems like we will never reopen. The grass at the public park down the street has not been mowed since March. The sprinkler system has been turned off, and since the rain stopped, the grass resembles a brittle wheat field. The jungle gym is wrapped in caution tape like a crime scene. The swings have been padlocked together after children cut the zip ties the park department previously tried.

After dinner, our family takes a walk through the neighborhood, hoping to quell the boys’ energy level and get away from the walls we’ve been looking at for far too long. At first, we snaked around the neighborhood, taking turns wherever the leader chose, but soon we started to find a route we liked. The path presented delights: a busy birdfeeder, a Little Free Library to share reads, a neighbor poised to wave at the window, and all the sidewalk victory gardens.

We started noticing the gardens in mid-April. Families in the neighborhood started building gardens out on the space between the sidewalk and the street. Children could still play in the small yards, but one could have a garden too. Moms, dads, and children, too, spray the good, dark earth with water. They pull out the weeds, making a little pile on the cement sidewalk, waving to us as we pass by.

Each evening we enjoy watching the progress of what was first a box of dirt now flourishing with creeping vines of snap peas bursting with flowers, tomato plants that threaten to take over their cages, and leafy lettuce with a taste so nutty, we remember why we should eat salads.

I love the sheer audacity of these gardens. In the midst of a global pandemic and civil unrest, there are people who endeavor to thrive. My neighbors dare to hope. They boldly press seeds into the earth and demand that plants grow.

One neighbor fashioned a homemade sign with leftover lumber, paint, and driftwood that says it all: “Even if we grow one sad potato out of this, it’s grounding.” There is something of a psalmist in these words, an echo of prayers from past struggles. “My flesh will live in hope.” (Acts 2:26)

Read more from Shemaiah Gonzalez in today’s featured article for 31 Days with St. Ignatius, To Give and Not to Count the Cost.

With the feast of St. Ignatius almost upon us, share your experience of God in the ordinary with the hashtag #31DayswithIgnatius.

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