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Planting Weekend

June 1, 2022

Fifty years ago, my best friend from high school and I drove 5 hours with her father into the Adirondacks to newly roto-tilled soil. Her Dad, 20 years younger than I am today, had a vision to grow vegetables for those staying at the house he and his wife had just built in North Creek, New York.

We labored for three days on a 24 foot by 24 foot patch of dirt, on a site that used to be a farm (until the farmhouse and barn burned down twenty years before). It was an amazing rural weekend for me, as I had been consigned by my parents to live in downtown Buffalo for the last two years (for reasons that are still not clear to me.)

Over the years, vegetables and the garden grew – becoming 5 times as large as it was on that 1972 Memorial Day Weekend. Beyond that, we created French Intensive Beds, fantastic dinners with now scores of various participants (including our children) and the creation of awards for each planter at Joke Night after two days of hard work. It was bliss that survived college, romances, children, even the death of my friend’s parents – and the maturing of our offspring, most of whom still show up.

I have attended 44 of those 50 weekends, including one in 1975 when my friend’s father picked me up at midnight in the Syracuse bus station, with an in-car nap on the Northway, on the way. My wife has been there for about 40 of these weeekends, and our children attended through high school, one of them almost every year since. We went even when my friend and her husband were away, so her father and I concocted a “Screw It!” Planting Weekend, full of shortcuts and humor at our cavalier technologies (chermical fertilizer!).

That first Planting Weekend was redemption for a child without much love in his life in 1972 – a rare sustaining moment in my youth and then through a wonderful adulthood.

This year, the tide had turned. The death of the Greatest Generation participants and the aging of the Baby Boomers meant that the Millennials were in full force. Over half of this year’s planters were within a few years of being 30 years old, either way, and they were fully delightful. Funny, smart, thoughtful, and with enough eagerness to make their time productive without debilitation for the Boomer Bodies. 

At the joviasl gathering for a boisterious communal dinner after a hard day of work, all of us collected, as we always did, at the direction of my friend, to sing Grace before we ate. We crossed arms, hand clasped – in a circle looking at each other in the eyes as had been done for fifty years. 

The Millennials looked just a little terrified.

The elders then belted out when a fully Godless Grace: “Thanks For Woods” – with those thanks being given to, to, well, something. The millenials smiled and looked at the singers: the old. Sensing this odd moment of collision between two worlds, I launched into singing the Doxology, the Episcopal version of attenuated phrases, where God was in full presence. The Millenial looks turned into the wide-eyed apprehension you have when listening to someone speaking in a foreign tongue,

Because it was a foreign tongue.

These terrific young adults, doing wonderful things, loving and living well through the Pandemic, largely in New York City, had simply not had the spiritual connection we old Episcopalians had. And thence a tradition. And in that, Faith. 

And then I remembered. I had not been a part of anything but my own desperation for the years before my first Planting Weekend. And then through college. It was only but a completely random connection seeking marriage in a church that we connected to a young Curate, Paul FM Zahl. Meeting him, I stepped into a church for the first time in a decade. I simply could not participate in something beyond myself because I had nothing beyond myself even in a time when ”everyone went to church”.

The love of Planting Weekend, the family who took me in, found its way to the love of God, where the love came from. Then marriage, children, and singing the Doxology, in tune, with harmony.

The northeast of America is losing its tradition of religion, sixty years after Europe lost touch with the religions that were once fully meshed with their countries. The 21st century will see even more change, and far fewer Graces being sung. Who knows if any of these Best and Brightest will ever have the connection that I have had – beyond the intelligence and great humor of their lives. But there are fewer of those that find the love that passes all understanding in the tradition of church and the Doxology, Faith now happens in a fact-checked world of memes and diametrically opposed certainties.

We are all Prodigal Sons. Everyone lives lives in the hope that those lives are more than just doing what we want to do. I footballed, romanced, architected through a decade where those realities were the only realities I could handle. Soon the earth shattering rewality of children, and soon before me the earth ending truth of death are the truthes of my life. I could not escape Jesus, because he is there, whether I like it or not. I know that some of those full throatedly singing the doxology that night are atheists: loving the tradition, but simply not finding a reality of God in their lives.

But that is my reality, the Prodigal Son reality. Profane falling headlong into the sacred, with no plan, perspective or even understanding. Because love needs no understanding. it is just the center of every life – if we can hear it beyond the noise, perhaps in the din of singing Grace.

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