The current cascade of discouraging events appears to have a paralyzing effect on many people. Here in the Lehigh Valley, PA, which a prominent candidate recently called “the swingiest district in the swingiest state” in the 2022 election, I call voters and knock on their doors, trying especially to recruit volunteers. The latter work is tough and sometimes disheartening. At this time how can folks not be fired up to protect people, the planet and democracy?
In a low moment at which I felt that I was spinning my wheels I looked out into my garden, noticing in particular a certain brown-eyed susan (rudbeckia triloba). The buds on its countless stems were beginning to open, and as I focused my attention to its efflorescence I became immediately, that is, directly, aware of the plant’s radiant life.
As it grows the susan extends its life in space and time, and the purpose of its efflorescence is to produce seeds that will disperse, then continue its biennial life in new plants. The pursuit of its life consists of so many intentional interactions with myriad things around it, as those things simultaneously interact with it for their own purposes. Thus the black beetles eat some of the petals, and the pollinators collect the pollen and nectar. In this last relationship the plant offers these substances to the insects as the means through which they symbiotically contribute to its vital function of reproduction.
My awareness of the susan also has a mutual character. For as I intentionally give it my attention it presents its radiant life to my consciousness, forming the bilateral intentional relationship which is precisely my experience of that life.
This relationship isn’t casual. Although the susan is a wildflower that has naturalized in my region, is hardy and spreads prolifically to the point of being somewhat invasive, it is growing in my garden. I have provided its place, cleared weeds that might have destroyed it and protected it from the possible damage of people walking on it or ground hogs eating it. In a word, I have cared for it. As I love it, so it loves me, and the bilateral intentional conjunction of our lives is manifested in my awareness of its radiant life.
This is life: radiance, bilateral (ultimately multilateral) intentional interactive relationships or functional conjunctions. My immediate awareness of what life is, which is given to me by the flower, inspires my persistent action of reaching out, interacting with people to serve the continuation of life which is the very practice of being fully alive.
Much attention is given to the consciousness of life experienced in wilderness and regenerative communities, but I’ve discerned the life of a potted flower on the porch of a small old row house in Reading, PA. Elsewhere I have been struck by the conspicuous absence of any such awareness while canvassing in luxury suburban developments We seek privacy to escape the racket and vulgar distractions of modern life, but as we block these intrusions, we also diminish life. Often flowers are planted merely to visually adorn property rather than to be living companions for the occupants who nurture and care for them in somewhat the same spirit as they care for their pets. Our green pals can even be treated rather as family, for as I walk into my garden looking for new flowers and plants that might need attention I ask aloud, “How we doin’, children?”
To all who give ear flowers are proclaiming what life is and what it means to live, imparting to us their life force, joie de vivre and message, which is “Live!”
My brown-eyed susan, now in full bloom, is rapidly being joined in that phase by the nearby ironweed, New England asters, wild sunflowers, blue mist and cardinal flowers that grow beside the currently blossoming purple coneflowers and several domestic varieties including butterfly-magnet zinnias. My garden has no plan: the flowers decide where they will grow, and my job is to furnish the hand labor that saves them from weeds, pests and occasional drought. In late summer it is an explosion of flowers and color which I gaze upon with rapture. Uplifted, inspired and revitalized by its glorious exuberance I hit the streets and the phones again.
At present the human scene is so challenging that people may wish to run away and hide. Summer is vacation time, but it’s also the time of peak vitality. Enjoy the flowers, but also understand why they give us pleasure: it is because they radiate life. This is our mission too, of which flowers remind us with their splendor. Imbibe their spirit first for comfort then to seize the urgent opportunity this year to reach out to people and connect with them to preserve the democracy that is essential for reversing environmental destruction, disease, war and rampant human injustice! Like the profuse blooms of the brown-eyed susan, a multitude of people must come forth to fully pursue, serve and save life.