Connection Requires Effort

By Charles LaFond, ISR Senior Director of Development

Many of us depend on our gardens for food, exercise, or moments of peace. But I will admit that my garden is a bit different; it’s a list of names.

Odd right? I love the fruits and vegetables that come from a late-summer garden. Tomatoes off their giant unwieldy vines, apples, and plums are favorites. I love what a garden produces. I am also mindful of the care one must take with a garden. Some plants need more sun. Some plants need more shade. Some need more moisture, while others thrive in dry or sandy soils. Some plants must be pulled to make room for new ones. The weeds constantly threaten the plants and must be pulled out, even though they can be so big and beautiful.

My “garden” is a list of names that hangs by my desk. Its title is “The Garden,” and it is a list of my closest friends in big, bold letters. Some live here on Whidbey or Camano Islands. Some are on the mainland, and some are disbursed throughout the nation and the world. As a spiritual practice, when I sit down at my desk every day, I read the names in “My Garden” out loud.

I do this because it occurs to me that a garden and a group of friends have similarities. Both hold living entities. Both must be tended. Both can feed the body or soul. Both have a wide diversity – some are showy, some meek, some productive, and others mostly gorgeous. Some need more or less sunlight, perhaps more or less water. Some offer meaty vegetables for meals, while others provide tiny flavors for spice. Both kinds of gardens need to be weeded (even though some weeds are beautiful).

Every day of my life since my 20s, I let my eyes wander from name to name on the “My Garden” list. These are my friends, and their presence in my life nourishes me, so I tend the garden with great care. These people are my lifeline to wellness. These are the beloved treasures in my life. Some have been on that list since high school. And like the vegetables and flowers of a garden, they each need different things to keep the friendship alive and thriving. Saul needs a note. Max is a “taker” and needs to be pulled from my garden. Mary needs a phone call. Johnathan needs fertilizer, so I will invite him to visit, lest the friendship weakens from malnutrition. Cheryl needs to be moved to a more sunny spot – perhaps we can plan a vacation together. Jeremy needs shade and dry soil, so I will wait to call him – he is an introvert.

What harms seniors like me more than diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and dementia are loneliness and isolation. I have friends who say they have no friends and feel alone. And I wonder, have you put the back-breaking work into connecting with your friends that you put into your tomatoes?

Make a list of your friends. Thumb-tack it over your desk or tape it onto your refrigerator. Meditate on it. Add to it. Tend to it. Tend your garden of relationships, and it will nourish you. Connection is and has been, for 250,000 years, humanity’s most powerful survival tool.