The Forty-Second Letter: The Basil Metaphor


Dear Daughters,

Every year, we plant basil in our herb garden here at home, and we plant basil in our plot at the community garden. We haven’t been successful growing it from seed, even when we start it early, inside, in egg cartons and yogurt containers, so we buy already-healthy plants and transplant them. We watch them in the early part of summer and pinch off the new growth, as we were taught by a master gardening friend. It stimulates the basil plants to grow bigger and healthier.

Every year, the basil at the community garden thrives. By the end of the season, we are harvesting grocery bags full of basil. I’m not exaggerating. I toss that into the food processor with some olive oil and garlic and we end up with dozens of small jars of frozen pesto in our chest freezer each fall.

Meanwhile, every year, the basil in our own small, corner herb garden shrivels. It never gets big and bushy. We occasionally get enough leaves off of it to garnish homemade pizza on Friday nights, but never enough for a batch of pesto.

This year, I bought well-established plants from a nursery, multiple plants of the same variety, the same height. I planted them in both places.

It didn’t matter that the plants started out the same.

It didn’t matter that they came from the same seeds.

On Wednesday, your dad went over to weed at the community garden, and he said the basil was healthy and bushy over there already. The scent of the first fruits he brought home and put in a mason jar on the windowsill above the sink lingered around the kitchen all day yesterday.

The basil in our herb garden remains small and sad. We suppose it has to do with the amount of sun our small garden gets, compared to the bright sun at our church, with the nutrients in the soil–or lack thereof, with the rain, with circumstances beyond our control.

The plants are the same.

The seeds are the same.

You know, the plants that grow big and healthy didn’t do anything special to make that happen. They aren’t more deserving of the sunshine and the rain. God doesn’t love the community garden basil more than the basil in our small plot at home.

There has been a lot of terrible news in our country this week. It’s the kind of news that just tears me up inside, knots up my stomach, and brings tears to my eyes. I’ll be honest, there are moments when it even makes me afraid to be a parent of young children, as I worry about the future, your future, in what seems like impossibly complicated situations, full of pain and fear and sadness and mistrust.

All I want to do is hold you and protect you and keep you safe. I want to nurture you and water you and offer you sunlight. I want you to grow and thrive.

That’s what all mommas want, girls. That’s what all parents want, no matter where they are planted. 

I’ve been thinking about how absolutely undeserving I am to have children who are safe and healthy and loved. I’ve been thinking about how afraid I am sometimes, how worried I am sometimes, it makes me realize just how spoiled I am, how my perspective is all off.

I take for granted where we’ve been planted. It’s a life of safety and security, of relative ease and comfort. And we are so undeserving.

What if our family had been planted in Syria? What if we were Muslim refugees?

What if we were victims of racial violence? What if we didn’t feel safe in our neighborhood? What if we weren’t sure that the police were trustworthy?

What if we were living on the streets of San Diego and afraid? What if you couldn’t go to school because you had to walk for miles to get our drinking water? What if we were in rural Asia before a storm hit?

The news stories I read about–those are real people’s stories, real families’ stories. Those could be our stories. We are not special.

Because it doesn’t matter where people are planted.

The seeds are the same.

We are all children of God.

We are all made in God’s image.

We are all worthy of respect. We are worthy of sunshine and rain and hope. We are all worthy of beauty.


Your Momma