Almost exactly a year ago, I got this email from the Listserve that made me start thinking about all of the tiny things that, when added up, make a place ‘good’ to…be. I still wasn’t sure if I would work in government yet, but I’d just returned from the Code for America Summit and was thinking about it a lot. I started a little pencil sketch, and finished a few months later on vacation in Puerto Rico. I’d completely forgotten I’d digitized and colored it until tonight. Below is the story; I think it’s still my favorite email.
From: Leon Jacobs firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: October 6, 2014 at 1:01:04 PM EDT
Subject: [The Listserve] A giant pumpkin in the lettuces
About ten years ago I was shooting a commercial for organic vegetables on the West Coast of South Africa. Before the cameras rolled, I took a walk with the farmer to inspect the crops. The soil in that part of the world is white and fine - like beach sand. I was amazed that anything grew in it, let alone bulbous aubergines and lush lettuces that were fit for the finest food stores in the world.
She explained to me that her job was not to farm the crops, but to simply take care of the soil. To make sure it is healthy, full of nutrients and regularly rested.
Good crops, she explained, are just the byproducts of happy soil.
As we talked, she spotted something unusual in the distance. She bolted towards it and triumphantly lifted the largest pumpkin I had ever seen. It was growing wildly in the sand amongst the lettuces. The beachy desert sand on her farm had become a fertile hotbed. Whatever seed fell on it just sprouted effortlessly.
It dawned on me recently that everyone of us is farming. No matter what your occupation, you’re growing crops. Your soil is your life. The people you come across. Your family. Friends. Coworkers.
Many of us abuse the soil to grow as many crops as quickly as we can. But a select few understand that what we get back is simply the byproduct of a life well lived.
I am in no position to tell anyone how to take care of their soil, but I have a feeling that being kind, respectful and empathetic to everyone you encounter would be a good start.
The universe is just a big black void filled with atoms filled with voids that operates on a strict set of physical laws. It cares not for our ideas of justice. The oceans crash on the beach in the dead of night just as they do during an awe inspiring sunset.
Good things happen. Bad things happen. In the end all we can be sure of is that the phyiscal laws of nature dictates that good soil will yield great crops. Perhaps that is what all the religions and philosophies are trying to get at with their own versions of ‘reaping what you’re sowing.’
The kindness and respect and empathy you show today might not come back to you tomorrow. But perhaps - in a summer to come - you too will find a giant pumpkin in your lettuces.
It was a privilege writing to you all. I would enjoy hearing from you - on email or twitter. My handle is my first and last name.
Cape Town, South Africa