A couple of days ago I mentioned I had been sleeping late the last couple of weeks. I know 8:30 doesn’t sound late to some people, especially my kids (to whom noon would still be early), but I prefer getting up and getting on with my day. I can still hear my father say, “Get out of bed son, you’re burning daylight”. Apparently, his spirit has entered my dog Maggie, because she has limits on sleeping in as well. By 8:30, she decides I need a morning bath. She jumps up on the bed and licks any exposed skin – usually my face – until I get up and get moving. My father would be proud…
Margaret went back to bed after I got up. She’s had a rough week. We were out and about for several days and she worked on her quilting with her friend Mary. I love to be able to go places with my wife and I really appreciate her spending time with friends. The unfortunate consequence to that occurs in the following week. She pays for her time going places with a week in bed. Anyone who deals with chronic pain or fatigue knows what I mean.
So, my time on the porch was spent in solitude this morning. It was already beginning to get too hot to linger there, but I stayed for quite a while. There are days when the thoughts dart across my head like the squirrels chasing each other across our front lawn. I have difficulty focusing, my prayers seem stale, and it’s hard to listen for His side of the conversation anyway. I used to get really upset when this happened. Today, it’s God’s way of telling me it’s okay, relax and simply enjoy the morning. It took me a long time to learn how to do ‘nothing’. The irony is that by relaxing and letting the wandering thoughts be is that I become centered and begin to gain focus. Go figure…
I’ve been working on a project I’m truly passionate about. The initial research has been both rewarding and extremely frustrating. It deals with the problem of ‘food deserts’ and the lack of good food in low-income neighborhoods. Food availability truly is a class issue. Working toward a solution and food equality is something I’m proud to be involved in. I guess that’s why I got to thinking about a community garden project I was worked on several years ago for Dr. Brown in the Como neighborhood.
The Como community grew up around Lake Como, which was built in 1889. It was originally a thriving resort area. By the 1940s it became a predominantly African American community. It had its own ‘downtown’ which became the center of life for the community. However, decades later, downtown had disappeared, the local theater was torn down and an old beer and barbeque place was all that was left. It was on these vacant lots that Dr. Brown and his community organization, B.U.R.N. Ministries, decided to put a garden.
I went to work for Dr. Brown and the various groups of volunteers that came to help. Much of the initial labor came from the kids enrolled in the B.U.R.N. Ministries mentoring programs, the Mighty Men and Women of Grace, that came to help prepare the hard-scrabble soil for planting. Neighbors would walk by periodically and comment on our progress – usually telling us that nothing would grow there. We told them we were going to try anyway.
There was one gentleman that rode by on his bicycle and stopped to comment on a regular basis. Most of his comments weren’t positive – at least at first. He said to me,
“You white church folks come down here with all these big ideas without talking to us and finding out what we need. Then you go home and pat yourselves on the back for being of service to us poor black folks. We’re left to clean up the mess. Nobody asked us if we wanted a garden.”
I didn’t have much of an answer for him, except to say that Dr. Brown lives and works in the community and this was part of a long-term plan. Eventually, the garden would be replaced by a school for the community. I finished the stuff I needed to take care of and went home. I thought a lot about what he said. The harsh reality is that he was right. Too often, we think we know what’s best for someone without ever asking the people we’re trying to ‘help’. We don’t like to listen to their needs, their opinions, and their visions
Despite what everyone said, the garden was successful, and I spent a lot of quality time with the kids. Even the gentleman on the bike changed his mind about the project when he saw us there daily, weeding, watering, and harvesting. It wasn’t a one-and-done weekend project. By being there daily, we formed a relationship and an understanding. My planting became based on the neighborhood’s wishes. I stayed and listened…
Learning to listen is not easy. It takes patience, something I’ve never excelled at. It’s much easier to plow straight ahead, believing that I know what’s best. My experience in Como gave me pause and made me look at my motives. Do I want to show up for a couple of days or weeks and take a lot of selfies with the local community or do I want to build on-going relationships? Am I trying to help others or trying to feel better about myself? Do I listen, really listen, or do I think I know what’s best?
In my professional life I work with mostly non-profits and faith-based organizations. I’ve noticed that the most successful organizations are those who listen and build relationships. Personally, I’ve found everything to be about relationships. My personal success and growth depends on the relationships I have with others. Those relationships develop by listening. I might hear you, but I can’t listen if I already know the answer…
My friend Edgar has taught me two valuable life lessons. One is “watch and listen”. The other is that “self-sufficiency is a lie”. I’ve learned just how right he is. I need all the relationships I have in my life today. Some set an example of who I want to become, and some show me what I want to avoid. It’s only by listening and having relationships that I find out which is which.
1 thought on “Como”
I agree with him.
Unfortunately I have seen to many well intentioned folks attempt to help the disadvantaged without consulting them. It is very insulting to them.
I greatly enjoyed working with those who were financially poor but spiritually rich. I believe I got more out of it then they did.
I strongly agree that it is important to watch and listen (as well as ask questions).
I find the self- sufficient to be morally bankrupt.
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