I wish I was a better gardener. It would make the following metaphor more powerful but, as you may have already found, I am a fan of metaphors (no matter how cheesy) to explain complicated ideas and moments in life. My metaphor of gardening is one I rely on around this time every year. Well every year for the last five anyway. Some recent comments from friends have alerted me to the fact that this metaphor translated and resonated in others’ lives as well and may be special enough to share here too.
On the hottest day of the year, in Brisbane, the college I manage opens it’s doors to a new contingent of first year students. They are nervous, shy, outgoing, youthful and buzzing. They are about to embark, for the most part, on independent living for the first time. They are fledgling from their nests and joining the world of adulthood (or at least that what us adults are pretending to be doing) and they are excited and terrified. And their parents are too. It’s one of my favourite days.
On this particular day I have one role to play and that is to assure them that they are exactly what and where they are meant to be (emotionally as well as physically) and that everything is going to be alright. I try to do this with warmth, confidence and humour. And this is where the garden metaphor comes in. I explain to new students and
parents alike that college is a “people growing” place. People will grow at their own rate and in their own way. There will be sun and rain and the occasional fertiliser dump (pun intended) but growth is always possible. The community that we (the leadership team and I) provide is designed for this to happen. And we hope and strive for this “growth” to happen with support, respect and friendship.
I then go on to explain the gardeners (the Residential Advisors, Residential Committee, a plethora of staff and services across accommodation and campus) as well as what the wedding or pruning (i.e. discipline) part of “growing” at college might look like. I explain to those gathered that this phase of life is an adventure with their participation in all aspects is what makes it so worthwhile. Hoorah for the process!!
I have had the privilege to get to know and work with some amazing young people through this job. Many of them have gone on to pursue enviable professions, titles and places in the world. Pilots, lawyers, accountants, post-graduate studies, doctors, events managers, consultants and engineers to name just a few. More than this though these young people are the salt of the earth. The kind that if you met out at a bar one night could regal you with stories that would have you holding your sides with laughter and whose compassion for the human condition and deep respect for living in community – in relation with one’s neighbours – would have you wondering if they have drunk from the elixir of life to hold such wisdom in such young frames.
My “guy” and I have been through some tough times together. We’ve sat with people in some of their darkest moments. We’ve had some dark ones of our own too. And we’ve had a few our brightest moments together. At the end of every year I look forward to our awards ceremony. It is a celebration of what community can do and mean for people but especially for young people who seem to be accused, due to technology, of not knowing how to do “face to face”, it’s a night that celebrates overcoming difference to knit together a vibrant, colourful and textured fabric of relationships. I’m so proud of “my” guys and who they have become and are becoming.
Just today a friend told me about his endeavors in producing quality gardening tools. It made me wonder which ones I, and others, use when gardening socially for the purposes of growing community. Would I have a spade or a trowel or gloves or shears? Maybe I employ all of these? I have never stopped to wonder about this before so I’m not sure what tools best suit my style of gardening. What I do know is that I feel a deep sense of privilege, pleasure and pride in tending to my community garden.