“If the world ended tomorrow, today I would plant a tree” –Street art in Pespire, Honduras
I started baking sourdough bread a few weeks ago. Now every weekend, I take my starter out of the fridge, stir in flour and water, and set it on my counter until it bubbles back to life. It takes all weekend to make a round, chewy loaf of bread. I can’t eat it fast enough. My freezer is filling up with slowly improving loaves, but I keep baking. I like having something to fuss over, something to keep alive.
I feel caught up in a collective urge to tend things. The baking aisles of the grocery store are ransacked. Animal shelters are empty. The line outside the hardware store stretches down the block as we stand, masked, six feet apart, waiting for our soil and seedlings to be brought to the curb.
It’s not just these small things. Crises tear down facades, revealing deep suffering, but also the tenderness, compassion, and resistance that has always raged against it. Those on the front lines protecting the hungry, the poor, the unhoused, or immigrants receive new visibility and support. On neighborhood Zoom calls and masked grocery store runs, people plug into their communities in a way that will not just get us through this crisis, it will carry us beyond it.
“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces,” says an old quote often attributed to Martin Luther, “I would still plant my apple tree.”
I have never felt this so acutely. As the world grows stranger, I find comfort not in exceptional tasks, but in the sort of routine care that presupposes a future.
“This is what we are about,” reads a prayer in honor of Óscar Romero, “We plant the seeds that one day will grow… We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.”
The world has fallen into pieces. But still, we’re here—doing something. We plant seeds and tend them, as if we know they’ll flower. We bring children into this world and nurture them, as if we know they’ll carry on our joy. We care for our bodies as if they will accompany us for many more years. We study and work, as if we know our labor will improve the world. We invest, in the words of Wendell Berry—in the Millennium.
The world is dark and heavy, yet here we are—planting trees. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know if give ourselves over to this work today, eventually we’ll have apples.
Katerina Parsons (’15) lives in Washington D.C., where she works in advocacy at Mennonite Central Committee’s Washington office and studies international development at American University’s School of International Service. She spends a lot of time thinking about US policy towards Central America and North Korea, writing, singing, and searching for the city’s best pupusas (suggestions welcome).