Planting the Seeds of the Future

Praise for Everything “Springing Fresh from the World”

Mrs. Glenn loved my first-grade class. So much, she told us, that she just couldn’t let us go. She graduated along with us, becoming our teacher for the second grade too. That allowed me to proudly bring the pumpkin seeds for Mrs. Glenn’s final year of teaching.

Each spring for 18 years—a time span almost beyond the imagination of a seven-year-old—Mrs. Glenn showed her classes how to plant seeds in waxy, sawed-off milk cartons. They would sit in a row on the windowsill for weeks, slowly germinating, until two tiny intertwined leaves would finally push up through the dark soil to open into the sunshine. At the end of the school year, one student would promise to grow actual pumpkins over the summer and then bring seeds back for the next year’s crop of students. Mrs. Glenn’s seeds had deep roots, reaching back not only to a full generation of grade-schoolers, but also creeping forward into the future.

My grandson Sam, who lives across the street, loves to come lend a hand when he sees me gardening. Often, as we work, he peppers me with questions. Sometimes they have to do with plants, but with Sam, even simple queries can veer into the philosophical. We might start off with the buds of bachelor’s buttons and wind up on the merits of married versus single life. So it wasn’t a total surprise when, in the midst of eradicating a clump of invading mushrooms, Sam asked me: “What does God look like?”

“I don’t really know,” I replied. “I don’t think of God as looking like a physical being, really. I think of God more as a spirit, a force that is in every living thing.”

As I pondered how to explain this, what popped into my mind was the image of two new, intertwined leaves, pushing up through the earth, clasped like hands in prayer. Apparently, Mrs. Glenn’s lessons were theological, as well as botanical. I knelt down and picked up some gravel in one hand, some tiny black poppy seeds in the other.

“These seeds don’t look much different from these black stones, do they? But they’re wondrously different. Somehow, these seeds contain everything they need to create those beautiful orange flowers growing in front of your house. How can they know how to do that?” I asked him. “Of course, it’s not just plants. It’s the same with the tadpoles that just hatched out of the eggs in the river. And the little kit foxes that are born in the spring. Even you! Every living thing comes into this world filled with a mysterious will to grow. No one has to tell any plant or creature how to do it. We’re all just born with that magic, a spark of the divine inside of us. That’s what I call God.”

I realized that my explanation sounded a little like Jesus’ statement “the kingdom of God is within you,” or the lyrics to the hymn “Morning Has Broken.” So, it seems that the seeds Mrs. Glenn planted so long ago are still bearing fruit, even though she must have died decades ago. By persisting in their students’ memories, great teachers like Mrs. Glenn sometimes achieve a kind of immortality.

Of course, it’s not just teachers who teach, nor gardeners who garden. Anytime an adult spends time with a child, answering interminable and ineffable questions, they plant seeds for the future. I’m now about the same age Mrs. Glenn was when she retired, nearer to day’s end than the break of morning. I’m surprised by how often, while gardening, I will think, “My mom planted four o’clocks like these” or “My great aunt Eleanor taught me the name of this flower.” Both of those ladies, like Mrs. Glenn, are long gone from this earth. But the seeds they planted are perennial.

I hope that in my garden rambles with Sam, I’m planting a love for creation, a reverence for the garden “sprung in completeness where God’s feet pass.” I hope too, that I’m seeding memories that will persist long after I blow away like fallen leaves.