Planting peas in a pandemic

The rich dirt still gives the way it usually does–a slight resistance before the earth yields to my finger, poking a hole into the garden ground again. I’ve done it thousands and thousands of times, and each time brings me joy.

Pea plant rising from the earth.

We eat from the garden–last night it was frozen tomatoes and fresh basil. (The basil is under lights in the basement, sitting in pots filled with dirt from the garden, which will be returned to the garden.)

Decent dirt has a heady aroma, difficult to describe if you do not pay attention to dirt, but a smell any gardener will tell you is enough to get us on our knees. Soil is complex, it is alive, and it is grace.

Winter radishes

We are in trouble, partly because of a virus too new for us to handle, mostly because we’ve forgotten we come from the garden. The story of Adam and Eve (and it is, of course, an old story, told by humans about humans) is a cautionary tale for our times.

We fool ourselves into thinking we can control the garden–our “economy” is based on consumption, on lifeless dirt fertilized with synthetic chemicals produced in a furnace in a process invented by the same man who developed chlorine gas for warfare.

Heaven is found not in the empty sky but in the teeming loam under our feet. If we remembered where we come from, we would not be dumping milk down the drain and crushing tons of beans for mulch as suddenly destitute families face hunger and empty shelves.

November tomato from the garden

A couple of days ago the peas I dropped into the holes my fingers poked into the ground (I did nothing more than that) broke through the earth. The leaves are headed heavenward, but so are the roots. The earth, the air, the rain, and the light will coalesce to form more peas.

I can eat the peas, I can sell them, I can let them fall to waste, but what I cannot do is make them. I pray a lot in the garden, sometimes out of desperation on a bad day, but in recognition of grace on the good days.

And bad days are rare in the garden.

Be God, Bee God

If God is only in a few of us, God is in none of us.
If God is in some of us, God is in all of us.

Honey bee on our rosemary plant in late January 2020.

I saw a couple of honey bees in the rosemary yesterday. I heard them before I saw them.

It had rained hard just an hour earlier, and the rosemary flowers were soaked, making it difficult for the bees to gather much nectar. One looked particularly frustrated.

Their bee bodies were sleek, not covered with the pollen found on them in the summer. Not much blooming in January–rosemary, a few dandelions, not much else.

Still, the bees were out, and I was out, and I was curious about them, and one was (mildly) curious about me until she realized I was not a threat. Then she went back to work.

If God is in some of us, God is in all of us.
And if God is in all of us, God is in the bees as well.

This is only sacrilegious if you anthropomorphize God. (It may be sacrilegious to anthropomorphize bees, too, but I do not know enough about religion, or God, or bees to say with much authority.)

If you go outside, even in January, you will be surprised.

The shells of clams I have raked, cooked, and eaten. December 2019

On the way home from school on Friday, I saw a woman about my age look a little hesitant as I passed her. I said hello and walked on, but got stopped by a couple of my former students, and we chatted about robots (an upcoming robot competition), music (one had a gig that night at a local fund raiser), and whatever else was going on in their lives at the moment. Kids lead a lot more interesting lives than many adults I know.

The woman watched me chat, then, figuring I was safe, asked me if I knew where the Church on the Green was. I pointed it out–it was right across he street–then we got to chatting. Strangers on the street lead a lot more interesting lives than we know unless we ask.

She was looking for a food pantry that had Alimentum, a special formula for babies that are allergic to milk. It’s hard to find Alimentum in food pantries, and even harder at stores if you lack cash. She had just gotten custody of her great grand-daughter, had an appointment for WIC in three weeks, but in the meantime she needed to find Alimentum.

I embarrassed her by offering what little cash I was carrying, but after some back and forth I convinced her take it. She made it clear to me that she was not homeless and was not looking for anything from me.

I knew as much. I know a little bit about Alimentum from my years as a pediatrician, and a lot more about how we care for children in this land, a lesson I learned well practicing medicine.

A rosemary in January will share nectar with another species, but if you lack cash or credit, your human baby may well go hungry until she is “in the system.”

Granny’s crucifix made of Irish bogwood, now mine. She saw Saints, I once did, too.

The whitewashing of Dr. King

When I die, I hope nobody mistakes my kindness for niceness. I am not a nice man.
Dr. King’s life profoundly affected mine.

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice….Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

Martin Luther King, Jr., from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was loving, and kind, and powerful. His words still resonate, should you choose to hear them.

Do not confuse non-violence with passivity.

Do not confuse kindness with niceness.

During school announcements yesterday, our students were told that Dr. King pushed “cooperation.” Rania Jones, a 3rd grade winner of the Milwaukee Public Schools’ “People Must Work Together” King contest wrote “That’s what we must do today – demonstrate cooperation.” This is the Dr. King lite version of a complex story. This is the version that gives so many of us the day off on Monday.

“Love” is a complex word, and one not easily used in public settings. “Cooperation” is much safer, more sanitary.

And it’s the wrong message.


My Dad joined  the 1963 March on Washington, dressed in full uniform, a proud US Marine officer. He flew A4 Phantom Skyhawks off carriers, in love with a country that let poor first generation children fly.

My dad was pulled to the front of the parade, or so the story goes. If you see a full-dressed USMC officer in photos from the parade, it may well be Bill Doyle. Dr. King later went on to oppose the Viet Nam War as unjust, and my father, a die-hard leatherneck, resigned his commission for the same reason.

I grew up in an Irish Catholic home, but Dr. King held as much influence as the Pope, maybe more, years before he was assassinated. My Dad loved the man, not the cartoon he has become.

Read “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”

Take a walk outside and watch the grace and agony of life around us.

Yes, it’s complicated. Life is complex,

You want to learn about Dr. King? Go read his words, listen to his speeches, learn everything you can about him. But don’t “cooperate” with those who would steal his image without his words, the Mike Pences, the innumerable talking heads that will piously bow today.

Take a walk, a walk outside, away from noise. Carry a copy of King’s letter and read it under the January sunlight.

Share it. Live it.

Don’t let the dream die.

The photo of Dr. King (D.C., August, 1963)  is from the National Archives and is the public domain.