“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
I was maybe five or six years old the first time I heard the story of Johnny Appleseed. I’m sure it was a watered-down version of John Chapman’s life that had been vastly oversimplified for young children, but I remember well the way it lit up my imagination and filled my dreams with new, childishly idyllic ambitions. THAT’S what I was going to do when I grew up! Just wander across the country, communing peaceably with wildlife and planting stuff. Perfect.
(I was also going to marry Bambi when I grew up. Life’s possibilities are very flexible when you’re six.)
In February I started getting together with the Pastor of my church once a week over lunch or breakfast at the local diner. It’s sort of a spiritual counseling session, and it’s been more helpful to me than I have words to express. I’ve been sitting here just now trying to think of a way to explain the whys and hows of the profound value these talks have had for me, but I’ve finally decided that it would take up too much space and I probably wouldn’t get it right anyway.
During our very first lunch together the Pastor said something that I quite frankly wasn’t ready to hear. He said I was a healer, or was destined to be one. At that time I was firmly in the grip of a personal upheaval, and my own spiritual (and mental and emotional) health felt as fragile as an eggshell. The last thing I wanted to think about was being around other unhealthy people on purpose.
I told Pastor Bill as much, and then pushed the whole idea to the back of my head, where it sort of dug in and put down roots and started to grow, and maybe a month later I realized that I did in fact feel a desire to help others who, like me, were seeking wholeness. But I couldn’t picture myself doing what the Pastor does: talking to spiritually needy people about their spiritual needs day after day, week after week…the mere thought makes me feel like crawling into bed and pulling the covers over my ears.
And then one morning a couple weeks ago I woke up from an intense dream with the answer filling my head and heart with absolute certainty, like the voice of God Himself. I’ve forgotten the dream (I guess I should have written it down), but the certainty is still with me.
Johnny Appleseed was onto something.
Of course, Anza already has more than enough apple trees. You can’t throw a rock in this town without hitting an apple orchard. But I look around at all the scared, struggling, unemployed or soon-to-be-unemployed people in this town, people who can barely afford to buy groceries anymore, and I think, “That would be me if I didn’t have all this food growing on my property.”
And I realized: they should have it too. All of them. There should be grapevines and strawberry patches and raspberry canes and sunchokes in every backyard.
And I can help make that happen, at least locally. I can give away cuttings and sprouts and suckers and roots and bulbs and tubers until the whole valley is supplied. It won’t cost me anything, other than a bit of time and effort. Most edible perennials are easy to propagate and simple to grow.
This isn’t something I can start doing, like, today. I’ve just started growing things like strawberries and sunchokes myself, and they need to get better established before I’ll have enough to give away. But just having the goal in my head makes me feel alive and purposeful. I can make a real, tangible difference in this town. Sure, growing conditions are less than ideal in Anza. The poor soil, the arid climate, the altitude…these are challenges that I learned to overcome by trial and error, and I can share all the things I’ve learned. I can turn my own property into a kind of test kitchen, to find out what can be grown here and what can’t, and let people come and see and taste the possibilities for themselves.
This is a purpose I can put my heart into. I’d been planning to turn my property into a self-sufficient Eden anyway, but the thought of helping everyone else who wants to do the same is what has really fired my imagination.
Next winter I’ll start handing out rooted grapevine cuttings. The first step in what I hope will be a new and productive journey.
It feels really good to have a solid long-term goal again. I can’t wait to get started.