I love a good gardening analogy and if you don’t, you should probably stop reading now.
Truth be told, I am a lazy gardener. I love it when things self-seed, self-sow, and somehow miraculously grow and live without any help from me. Black-eyed Susans that drifted in from another garden now flourish in various parts of my yard without any help from me. And this summer, they have taken root in my cement steps. A big bunch greets you at the bottom of the steps and another at the top. Snap dragons find clever little spots between cracks in my walkway and others are happy to bloom in the middle of my pebble path. I love these little cheeky gems that pop up in unlikely places. Every time I pass the violet vining petunias in the sidewalk on Winter Street downtown, I give a small nod of gratitude.
These miracles are something to cherish. People do cherish them by noticing, treading gingerly, and enjoying the unexpectedness of them. People may come to their aid in the scorching heat of a dry summer week, where just a tiny bit of water will help them survive until the next rain comes. And survive they do.
These petite miracles never cease to amaze me. That a tiny little seed can find what it needs to grow and flourish in an unlikely place is a beautiful affirmation of the extraordinary natural world of which we are part. It is a miracle of two parts in the making: genetic matter striving to survive into another generation and an environment to support it.
The simple act of adding a nesting perch in Hogback Reservoir has encouraged ospreys to return to Delaware County over the years and their numbers are growing. I now see eagles regularly patrolling the waters of the Olentangy when 25 years ago that was a rare sight. I’m sure it is because of local efforts to create a more natural and robust microenvironment in the riverbed and watershed. An extreme example is that a vast automobile compound lot in downtown Columbus near the confluence of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers has been reclaimed and returned into the natural estuary it once was supporting a growing diversity of flora and fauna.
Microenvironments are islands of suchness. It is this way here in this tiny area surrounding by different conditions over there. Like an oasis in the desert. That natural confluence of incredible biodiversity in Columbus exists, surrounded by skyscrapers, 10-lane freeways, and over a million people, simply because some dedicated folks took the initiative to tweak the environs to encourage it. For Clevelanders, I’ll mention an endearing example: What once was a natural estuary leading to Lake Erie became the noxiously notorious Burning River and now is a corridor that includes a national park!
In my work at Andrews House, I have experienced the amazing microenvironment created by churches, individuals, groups, and collaborative partners of nonprofits, civic institutions, and philanthropists to help our neighbors through difficult times by offering a multitude of services from food pantries and legal advice to homeless shelters and rent assistance. In this difficult period after our years of pandemic and now growing inflation, there are people who need help in recovering from many losses: health, loved ones, homes and ways of life. The philanthropic microenvironment in Delaware helps our friends and neighbors in need get through these difficult times with grace and love.
In many religious practices and in psychology, the practice of cultivating love and gratitude is a personal practice in opening your own heart to empathy, tenderness, grace, understanding, forgiveness and generosity. Even with (especially) our own self, which can often be the hardest, driest, most barren landscape anywhere. This positive cultivation broadens the boundaries of our own microenvironment to spill over, influence, make fertile what is around us. And so on and so on.
The Little Free Pantry & Library at Andrews House has been the subject of this column before, and I will end again with it here. This little box of hope that help folks get from here to there is like a beautiful sidewalk flower.
Mel Corroto is not a pastor, but she works with many pastors and church communities in her role as director of Andrews House in Delaware.