Today, a rare foray into political topics. This won't happen often, I promise.
Yesterday I watched the historic inauguration of the first black US president. For reasons that remain mysterious even to me, I'm a bit of a sucker for pomp and circumstance, so I tend to enjoy these sorts of things. I wondered how much sleep Obama had gotten the night before. I sure hope our new president was wearing some really good long underwear. It was cold in Washington.
I was mostly, but not entirely, pleased with what Obama had to say in his inaugural address. I'm not sure that I can agree that the choice between safety and "our ideals," by which I assume he meant freedom, is false. I think our founding fathers - and mothers - knew full well that we must sometimes choose between our safety and our freedom, as clearly indicated by Benjamin Franklin's famous quote: "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." After all, rebelling against the most powerful nation in the world to declare our independence could hardly have been considered the safe move. Living in a free society means that we must accept that we are not always perfectly safe. Our country was founded on a firm choice for liberty over safety, and that's a part of our heritage we should be enormously proud of. So let's not glibly deny the dichotomy.
Likewise, I can't agree that we should not apologize for our "way of life." The American way of life is excessive and hideously impoverished at the same time. The very problems Obama identified as our immediate priorities - economic, environmental, and social - have been caused by a way of life characterized by overconsumption, a reliance on unsecured debt, and a dearth of strong communities. There is much that is good in our way of life, and we should take pride in those things. But let us not confuse patriotism with a blind endorsement of all that we do and all that we are. True patriotism lies in upholding and honoring what is good for our country, as well as in changing what is not good for us or our posterity.
Enough of abstract politics.
Obama's speech brought to my mind John F. Kennedy's inaugural address which contained the immortal line: "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country." I'm not sure exactly what got me from Obama to Kennedy. But I believe we will need a collective effort, a willingness for everyone to put their shoulders to the wheel and do what we can to help one another and help ourselves. So I started thinking about a simple, voluntary, and very grass-roots idea that has already seen great success. It's the Plant a Row for the Hungry project.
In a nutshell, Plant a Row calls on gardeners to dedicate one row of their garden to growing food to feed the hungry. This is such a brilliant idea for so many reasons. There are 70 million gardeners in the US. One in ten Americans either goes hungry or is at risk of hunger in any given week. Most of them are children. Food banks and soup kitchens are facing alarming shortages right now, and even in good times fresh produce is almost non-existent at these places. I know; I occasionally volunteer to load the grocery bags at a local food bank. No one needs to organize or coordinate the Plant a Row project. There are no meetings to attend or forms to fill out. It's just a self-directed gardener, doing a little extra work as a personal form of tithing directly to the poor. It can't solve all the world's problems, but it is something within easy reach of millions of us. And it is an absolute good.
If you have a garden, please consider breaking ground on a new row this year to grow food for hungry people in your area. There's still time to plan this into your garden for this year. Call your local food bank and see if they can accept fresh produce. Some cannot because they have no means of storing it. Ask enough questions. They may not be able to take lettuce, but perhaps they could briefly store potatoes, apples, or onions. If they cannot accept your produce, don't be discouraged. Ask if they know of another food bank, or a soup kitchen, or any food charity that could use what you plan to grow. They'll probably even be able to give you some phone numbers.
It took me only one call to reach someone at our local soup kitchen who was thrilled with the prospect of getting fresh produce come summertime. He said they almost never have anything in the way of fresh produce. I've talked two of my relatives into Planting a Row this year. Won't you consider joining us?