July 6, 2014
You may remember last week’s account of double trouble: there were spider mites in the big gray pot; and, two, an idea from a book raised some hard questions.
Developments on the spider mite front are not surprising, but they are interesting.
I pruned back the infected plant severely, pulled all the surrounding plants that might be harboring hidden spider mites, and deposited all in the compost pile. I sprayed the remaining piece of the infected plant and the surrounding soil, and moved the pot to the intensive care unit on the back patio.
This morning I counted nine new leaves (quite green and perky) and could see no signs of residual spider mites. It is too soon to know if the purple salvia will survive both the infection and resulting surgery, but there are encouraging signs of life.
But that unsettling question continues to cause trouble.
The early form of the trouble came as I was sitting peacefully, watching the dawn, at home in my own skin and my small world, comforted with the sense that Everything Belongs.
Then that first troublesome question inserted itself: how can everything belong? How do these spider mites fit in—miserable, tiny, sneaky creatures that they are, that threaten the life of the salvia?
And now, the second (and equally troublesome) question has emerged in a somewhat similar way.
I had completed my drastic intervention into the lives of the spider mites and left them to their fate in the compost pile. I had used chemical death to annihilate any offspring that might remain on the plant stalk and surrounding soil. Presumably, my action had saved the life of the salvia.
I sat down with a fresh cup of coffee and (full disclosure) a rather smug sense of self-righteousness. I had served as the source of just destruction in the lives of the spider mites. They clearly “belonged” in the compost pile.
Then, in a quite unfair manner, the first question suddenly turned itself on its head: how did I “belong” in the world of the spider mites?
In the world of the spider mites, I was an enemy—a source of death and destruction. I was for the spider mites what the spider mites were to the salvia. Long pause. I belonged in at least one role as the agent of death.
At both unconscious and conscious levels, my life-long personal identity has been oriented toward choosing life, and, so far as I was able, invested in encouraging and supporting the choice of life in others.
But here—thanks to that book and the ideas it carried—I was faced with a most uncomfortable reframing of identity. While in the life of the salvia I acted to support life, simultaneously, here in the life of the spider mites, I acted as an agent of death.
Even in the context of spider mites, I do not like to belong as a part of the shadowed world of endings and death. Nevertheless, the truth is that some of the things in the compost pile are there because I placed them there in an act of deliberately delivering death.
This belonging business is complex. I long deeply to be a vital part of the life support system in the community in which I live, but this spider mite business has forced me to face a hard alternative. While my intention may be to invest only in life-giving, life-supporting actions, my human wholeness, indivisible, requires that I see my role in both worlds—I may support life, but in doing so I may also be destructive. Doing good can be a very dangerous—and ambiguous—thing.
Jesus told Peter that forgiving—seventy times seven—was the reasonable response to injury. Was Jesus thinking that if Peter truly understood how many times he had injured others (even while he was doing good) that forgiving would seem a reasonable way of life?
Wondering with you this week how our capacity to harm belongs with our capacity (and longing) to do good.
See you next week.