Monday, November 28, 2016

First Week of Advent: Weeds

Our previous home was in an allotment of McMansions marked by small trees dotting streets every few feet and well-manicured lawns regularly cut and watered.

This neighborhood looked the way it did because our Homeowners Association dictated that individual owners adhere to a certain level of standards and practices. We knew what we were in for when sitting down with the builder to design our house, because at that stage we were told things like what colors for siding and shutters we couldn't choose on account of the houses in our immediate vicinity already having them. Even with this early warning sign of what could later transpire, we agreed to the terms set to us.

We were on a corner lot, which meant a comparably larger area of land and sidewalk to maintain. Our lawn included several mulch beds: one that wrapped around the side of the house and two that rose like islands in our side yard. It looked good when first put in, and we took pride in what we'd accomplished through our entire endeavor toward first-time ownership.

Eventually, we both became busy with the general responsibilities of our careers and caring for a toddler, such that we began to neglect the care of our landscaping. I still mowed faithfully, but the weeds in our mulch began to assert themselves in unruly ways. We both admitted even then that they looked really awful and were no doubt an eyesore to anyone who passed by.

After enough weeks gazing out at the jungle emerging around our trees and plants, we began taking steps to address the situation. It was a team effort: my wife would pull the weeds in a designated area, and I'd soon follow up by spreading bags of mulch. We worked slowly over many evenings and weekends, but the improvement was noticeable and nearly immediate.

With just one modest patch of overgrowth left, we received a letter from the firm managing our allotment stating that they'd received complaints from members of our neighborhood about the state of our yard. This both puzzled and angered us, because we were almost finished dealing with the problem. Whether there was a delay in this faceless entity an hour away getting to the issue or one of our neighbors choosing to ignore the progress that would have been obvious by that point, we couldn't say. Regardless, I composed a letter back saying that we were very aware of the issue and had, in fact, almost completed addressing it. We never heard back, and we didn't really care, and this incident was one of the many we'd stack on a pile of reasons why we were thankful eventually to move someplace else.

Ours is a culture that doesn't deal well with weeds. It demands a certain exterior in exchange for a sense of security and well-being. We try our best to live by this unspoken code: if I keep my imperfections hidden, and you yours, we will be able to coexist in relative peace and harmony under the pretention that all is well. But there come those times when we can't hide so easily; our problems become so overwhelming that we end up having to address them in public whether we want to or not. And a certain subset of people love to watch, to nitpick, to say we're going too slow, to report our blemishes to whomever will listen. If any of this aids in removing them from others' points of vision, all the better.

This time of year ratchets up this tendency tenfold. It's a season of comfort and joy, after all, where we tell ourselves and each other that if we hang enough tinsel and crank up Mannheim Steamroller, we won't have to see or hear our own shortcomings, let alone those of others. The social contract of December often demands that if we hide our problems behind the presents under the tree, being careful not to ruin the mood, we can get back to them after New Year's. Otherwise, a letter from Santa, baby Jesus, and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future will be forthcoming.

One would think that a season where we tell a story about a peasant family having to resort to tending a newborn among animals would feature more understanding and permission-giving, especially when the four weeks beforehand are supposed to be for acknowledging how much we need that baby to be born and for that light to shine. And if we listen more closely to that story and block out the commercials and the mall muzak, we may realize that actually, we do have such permission to be real about our struggles and hang-ups, and to admit that all the manufactured joy doesn't compare to the genuine article.

This first week of Advent is for hope. That hope doesn't always look like smiles draped with weed-free holly and ivy, but at least it's real. And real is what we're waiting for.

Image via FreeFoto.