By Patricia Hemingway



Rosa, my Mexican neighbor, sells plants on the sidewalk outside her home. Right away I notice the schefflera, the umbrella plant, in a small, cracked plastic pot. With pride Rosa tells me she found it as a tiny seedling—she illustrates with her fingers barely an inch apart—and that she has cared for it for 3 years.

To sustain: to comfort, to assist, to keep alive

With the gratitude and tenderness of a new mother, I take the schefflera home. The plant is now ready to become a tree. I buy a pot the size of a laundry basket from the plant store; also coconut husk fiber, rich humus, and the tiny pellets of minerals it will need to grow tall. It will live in the mixed sun and shade just outside my back door, the spot that is my sustenance.

Here, in a small chair, I sit beneath the tangle of bougainvillea, and the jasmine vines’ long green arms, feathered with the tiniest of leaves. In this quiet place hangs the aroma of sweetness.

Every morning I observe the new tree: one day it has a bright green sprout! Each succeeding day, I do what any new mother would do: I check to see that it is safe, that the soil is damp. How much it has grown overnight.

Is it because entire forests are burning, because I feel so little control, that I am devoted to this fragility? Making sure the cutter ants have not invaded it? Until one day, there it is: a new umbrella thrust higher than all the others.

Sustainability is possible here.

Sustainability is in great jeopardy in our world. We know this. We see it in vivid color on the television screen, and on the internet. We mourn. We are angry. Natural resources are our heritage, and we are meant to worship in the cool shade of our ancestors. In these repositories of wisdom, lies our true identity.

How we have taken comfort in this beauty: In the sun’s warmth on our faces. The rain on the windows and on the tent where we huddled inside in a sleeping bag. The clear coolness of the new morning when we built a camp fire and made coffee outdoors. O world, you have been ours for so long.

Among humans, sustainability is confronted by aging. Our beauty, our physical strength, our brain functioning and our mobility erode. We no longer feel sustainable. We grow dependent on a cane or a walker, work countless sudokus and crossword puzzles. Our physical bodies diminish.

Our task is to sustain the human heart.

To practice devotion.

To keep on going.

To preserve our connection and identification with others.

To keep the bonds of family and friendship alive; to nurture, and to treasure, and to provide comfort when we must let go and say goodbye.

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