“Everyone must leave something in the room or left behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.” -Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury
I’ve found myself lingering on this passage of late. Running it over and over in my mind. Poking at it to see how it moves as I hold it in the hands of who I am. And I wonder at what I’ve found. Both with the passage and with myself. Because I wonder what it is that I am. The gardener or the greenskeeper.
Most of us put our foot forth into the ring of education to make a difference. We want to spend the time we must away from our houses, our spouses, our children, doing something that will have meaning. We want to shape the world around us. To leave something others will see well after our hands have left the clay we are fashioning. And yet, I wonder, if I do enough to be the gardener. Or if I’ve risked becoming the greenskeeper.
We enter the profession full of spark and want and parched with a thirst that we believe will never be quenched. We step through the door on that birth of our career with thoughts that we will change the world. Or many tiny worlds. That we will be the gifted gardener who plants brilliance that blooms forth with shocking, stunning beauty that the world can’t help but marvel over. I certainly did.
But then the years mount. And difficulty and challenge sow the seeds of weeds that threaten to choke down that which we pour ourselves into day after day. And we begin to wonder if we’re planting anything at all. Or we stop planting entirely. We start cutting. And trimming. And instead of gardening, we only prune. True, we still find satisfaction in keeping the garden manicured, but still, we only maintain. We stop our starting. And risk becoming the lawn-cutter who “might just as well not have been there at all.”
I don’t assume this is your story. And it’s far too early to declare it’s mine. But it’s the right time to ask which you’re becoming. Which I’m becoming. And to resolve.
To be the gardener.