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The Roses and the Weeds

By Susann Estle-Cronau

“The neighbor wants to know if we’re going to get rid of the weeds.”

My heart sank. My son was mowing the lawn and came in with the news. My neighbor to the west had a large row of beautiful rose bushes she tended meticulously. My lawn was tended by teen-agers who didn’t even know what “meticulous” means.

I went outside to survey the jungle. The grass looked good, but we don’t own a weed-eater. Around the corner near her roses, the weeds, along with my embarrassment, had indeed grown to a new height. I had spent the previous month wrestling with the pain of a kidney stone, a dead fuel pump in my van, my full-time job and my part-time pastor’s job, all of which were the excuses I counted on as I walked to my neighbor’s front door.

We chatted. She was understanding. My two teens trailed behind me, attempting to be helpful by changing the subject from weeds to shopping. My cell phone rang. It was important. My neighbor shook her head and looked at the tall, tall weeds close to her roses and went back inside.

A few days passed, and I attempted to pull the weeds out of the rock-hard ground. We were in the middle of a drought, and nothing was coming out of the ground. I stomped down the taller weeds in an attempt to let the neighbor know I wasn’t ignoring her concerns. Later, I came home with clippers and directed my teens toward the weeds. After the first failed attempt I was forced to point out every patch of weeds and explain that not just one side of the driveway deserved their attention — both were equal in the sight of the neighbors.

As our lawn along with everyone else’s, turned to granola; the weeds seemed to flourish in the drought. They dominated the landscape in our neighborhood; the milk weeds, with their prickly, thick stalks thrived and my teens’ efforts of control did manage to clip down a few here and there completely, but missed the section closest to the roses.

One evening I was standing at the kitchen sink when motion outside the window caught my attention. It was a blue of dark burgundy — a purple martin landed on the decorative lattice between my house and my neighbor’s home. Such a beautiful bird! I wondered where the bird Perspectivesand his other friends were getting water in those dry days. As I pondered the plight of thirsty birds, I watched the purple martin snag a milk weed seed. First, he ripped it off gently from the weed, then he carefully wiped the silky part away before nibbling the rest of the seed.

I stood and watched this hungry little bird for at least ten minutes. He feasted upon the milkweed, even chasing off a competitor at one point and returning to his original perch to continue the feasting. Peck, wipe off the silk, nibble. In the morning, I noticed there were no more seeds left where the purple martin had been feeding.

I realized at that moment that I was in the midst of a conundrum. I want my purple martins to eat milkweed seeds. I want my neighbor to like me. In a dualistic world, I have to make a decision. I either leave the weeds for the birds to eat, or tear them down to make my neighbor happy. I allow weeds to flourish, so that the birds have plenty, or I get plenty of grief from my neighbor who thinks I’m lazy, inconsiderate, and have no pride of ownership in my property.

In a unified world, my neighbor and I have a fruitful discussion about how our roses and weeds can live in harmony. In a unified world, my neighbor and I can live next to one another in peace and understanding, with beautiful roses and satisfied birds. But my yearning for unity and the birds’ hunger didn’t outlast our neighbor’s pride. I came home this week to find the rose bushes pruned and my weeds chopped down. My neighbor explained that she bought a weed-whacker on sale. I was disappointed, but certainly not surprised.

Susann Estle-Cronau is part-time pastor at Hopewell Friends in Quaker, Indiana. During the week, she is a full-time program coordinator for incarcerated veterans at a special re-entry prison in Indianapolis. She is full-time mother of Case, 17, and Chloe, 15.