I tossed the plant haphazardly to the compost pile. It's just a plant, after all. Circle of life, you know. Not that I don't still wish I had those plants, but now my carrots have fewer roots to compete with and some nice nitrogen processing bacteria are making the air a little more breathable for us.
Later, I said goodbye to a group of people that I hadn't anticipated meeting this year, and even after I met, didn't anticipate the impact they would have on me. The West Philly MissionYear team had their final Goodbye Dinner and I was honored to be invited. Or, maybe it was a Thank You dinner. Whatever it was supposed to be, it ended up being a teary and joyful gathering of neighbors and church members, friends and coworkers who had come to love this fantastic group of young women who gave a year of their lives to serve and live intentionally in Philly. I helped Elizabeth this past year during the after school program, and she had become a friend and her house a welcoming place to visit. So, she invited me to the Farewell (or whatever it was) Dinner and told me I could bring a dessert if I wanted- but I forgot.
The funny thing about this Appreciation (or something) Dinner was, no one said "Thanks for letting me serve" or "Thanks for helping me." Instead, the thanks sounded more like, "Thanks for letting us eat Thanksgiving at your house this year," or "Thanks for being such a fun new neighbor," and "God really knows what we need; He is good, all the time."
I gave Elizabeth a card and a hug and took one last look at that street in West Philly and all it had become and, then they left, the MissionYear folks.
Another friend I didn't anticipate meeting is on her way to a new city and lots of unknown. I wanted to print her out a picture of our little group to take with her but the machine at the drug store was broken. But as I looked at the picture, I realized that everyone in the photo was a new friend, new of this year. How did I find these awesome people?
On Thursday I got a text, "Hey do you want to come over and help me move?" When is the answer to that ever no? It was kind of funny, she noted, because the first time I was seeing her room it was all in boxes. The new tenant was with us, and before I left I tried to unpack the boxes mentally and think of what the room used to look like, and what it would look like with the new girl's stuff. We hugged Sascha and Emily C. and I left on one bike, teetering down the side street.
In another strange twist, Kansas has somehow played an important role in my life this past year. In fact I'll be headed to Kansas for the second time in a year for the wedding of a good friend. And at some point recently, I found myself standing between my two Kansas friends watching a Kansas band with a Mississippi-an drummer on a Philadelphia stage. Oh, and surrounded by some of the people mentioned already, and many more that I've come to love.
As we stood, I felt like I was about to turn the next page of a book. As July becomes August and I grip the corner of the page, I know that some of the characters won't be on the next one, and that there will be new characters there instead, and ones I don't even know exist yet. But that night was for the about-to-turn anticipation while still enjoying every word. Still enjoying the fact that for one last time (for now, anyway) we were all able to be together in vigil of our community past and in honor of our community new, as it is now. After the show we hugged Kelsey and Whitney, waved at the band and all their gear, their thousands of miles ahead of them, and Emily A. and I walked down the bright lit Center City street
I tended those squash every day for three months, and it struck me how powerless I was to save them from the elements. I knew another, bigger storm was coming so I desperately tied up the tomato plant, bracing it for the winds, knowing that even if I stood out there with it, I couldn't wrap my arms around enough of its lengthy and numerous limbs to save it from the unfeeling storm. I had to trust that if it had been time for that squash, then it might be time for my tomato, too.
And it strikes me how powerless I was to bring any of those plants into existence in the first place. I mean, all "tended" really means is prune, water, wait, and hopefully, pick. But the seeds and I entered in to this unique partnership back in late April- I gave them a good home, and they were pre-packed with food and all the right ingredients to grow. Much like the friendships that have blossomed this year. In a way, I had as much power over the friendships I made as whether or not my plants were going to grow; but in another way, if I hadn't tended to my plants, they never would have grown at all.
And that's what I've learned. Everything I gained this year, I didn't do it on my own. "What right do you have to be angry about this plant?" God asked Jonah. "You didn't make it grow. So shouldn't I care about this great city- all these people?"
I still have that tomato plant, and it gets bigger every day. Elizabeth is back home now. Whitney and Kelsey are gone or leaving soon. Sascha will probably be back sooner rather than later. And they (and I) are all continuing to write their own stories, make new friendships. They, and many more of my friends, are leaving or coming or changing places during what will probably be the most mobile time of our lives. But August, don't fly away. Even if this time is crazy, I still love it. Whatever control we do or don't have, it's all ok.