I was watering my store-bought tomato plants a few days ago when these common words hit me in an uncommon way:
It’s hard to believe.
It wasn’t that the tomato plants were so remarkable (though they are) or the weather so fine (though it was). The sentence was whole and entire in its four words, with nothing to lead or follow.
Because it’s not hard to believe that this virus continues to literally plague the planet.
It’s not hard to believe that people would rather party than prevent its spread.
It’s not hard to believe that colored folks are (still) killed by those who’ve sworn to serve and protect.
It’s not hard to believe that all kinds of people are rising up and pushing back.
It’s just hard to believe, period.
That’s because I’m the worst kind of pessimist – a disappointed optimist.
I used to believe wholeheartedly in the good in people, used to focus on the positive whenever faced with negatives, used to excel in silver-lining finding.
But I got knocked on my ass one time too many and recently woke up to much that I’d set aside before. It was as if a lifetime’s worth of pain, resentment, grief, and ugliness caught up to me in just a few weeks.
Now I’m furious and bitter and breaking apart, barely held together with duct tape and spit.
Now I’m just waiting for it all to fall apart, which is safer for my tender heart than anticipating something great, or even better, and being disappointed. Again.
It’s not a wise choice, I know. Pessimism devours joy and shits cynicism; it’s a valid response but an extreme one. Somewhere between Bliss Bunny and Brittle Bitch lies a better way to be.
But that requires practiced discernment, and I didn’t have that kind of time. Last month, I was hurting badly and needed quick defenses, and it was fast, easy work to give up on the world and everything in it with a huff of righteous resignation.
There I was, just a couple of days ago, carefully watering my tomato plants – plants I bought from our local nursery when the ones I started from seed grew too slowly and fell out of sync with the weather.
Fortunately, the greenhouse sent out a last call for their remaining organic tomato plants, which were buy-one-get-one-free and a good bit worse for wear…
I found them far too large for their containers, droopy with pale, wilting leaves, yet bearing bright yellow flowers and tiny green fruits like a wink and a grin and a promise.
Thanks to my patrons, I got a variety of 20 tomato plants, which filled a raised bed and four containers on the side.
As I placed each plant – freeing it from its pot, splitting its rootbound soil ball, and nestling it into the earth – I could feel it stretching with a sigh as I talked it into the ground: “Oh, you poor thing! That looks so uncomfortable. This should feel better; there’s lots of room for you here.”
If the plants were going to fail me (or me them), it would happen quickly – I’d wake up the next day and know. But they were standing taller in the new sunshine and look a bit better every day.
In the meantime, only one corn stalk in 18 came up, darnit all to heck. The golden rule of corn is “knee-high by July,” which was just a few days away at the time, and there I was with near to nothing.
And so, I got down on my hands and knees and poked at every pocket with a pencil to see if they were even trying to come up, and I found that all but two holes were empty – no plants, not even their seeds.
The pheasants at work, probably. There are dozens of them on the property, and I’ve heard that they’re snipers with seed sonar … one cunning peck and – poof! – so much for your plant and your plans.
I found deflated corn kernels in those other holes, their shells empty with nothing to show for it.
All the seeds were viable, and there’d been plenty of sun, so what went wrong? Was it the soil’s texture or its temperature or something else entirely? And whichever way those went awry, why did that one, single plant do so well?
I had no answers, so I did what any cynical, fed up and faithless pessimist would do…
I planted more. In every hole.
Two seeds per. For emphasis.
And to double my chances for success, I guess … or to fail twice as badly.
Because, apparently, I don’t know when to quit. Or how, even. And that’s why I’m a tangle of discordant feels these days…
I feel sure I’ll be dead of the virus tomorrow (though I’m not even sick), yet I make a grocery list. I expect I won’t live to see autumn (though I barely leave the house), yet maintain a vegetable garden and am eager for the next James Bond movie (November 20!).
I tell myself we’re doomed, but still pay my bills. I tell myself nothing matters but client work gets done right and on time. I tell myself no one is paying attention, but then send word to you.
I want to believe that all will be well, but I don’t, because it’s damned hard to believe, and I’m not as strong as I was. And now I’m angry. And so, so weary.
So I tell myself that the world is coming to an end, and I’m not wrong – just turn on the news and you’ll see! But apparently, surprisingly, maddeningly, that notion is also hard for me to believe.
And so, I’m stuck in this messy middle: faithless and hopeful, hopeless and faithful, a traitor to both camps, simply because I don’t know when to stop. Or how.
I want to, though. I so want to. And I wish I had the words for why and why not. But I don’t, really.
So I wake up in despair then plant seeds by the double, talk them into growing, and keep an eye to the weather.
Because it’s hard to believe.
But I do anyway.