This morning I woke up thinking about onions.
Right before I turned in for bed last night, I saw an advertisement for bags of 100 seed onions at the local plant nursery, and I had to get them. I absolutely love to garden, and plant sales are my jam, but my level of obsession over these seed onions was over the top even for plant-enthusiast me. I think I fell asleep dreaming about planting these onions because I woke up this morning on a mission to buy and plant them.
After I got myself out of bed, I dawdled away the hours as I waited for the nursery to open. I drank my coffee, and checked the clock. Made some breakfast, and checked the clock. Urged my kids to get dressed so we could go buy seed onions, and checked the clock again. I am pretty sure I was driving my husband crazy as I kept talking about wanting to go buy these onions. (Bless him. He’s a patient guy.)
You see, I have this patch of terrible soil behind my house that seems ideally suited for growing creeping Charlie, Canada thistle, and bindweed, and which seems horribly unsuited for growing much of anything else. The only plants that have succeeded in this arid, sandy soil are those in the allium family – chives, bunching onions, and walking onions.
For whatever reason, when I saw that ad for all those seed onions, I decided I needed to start a small scale onion farm in that otherwise unusable soil. I fell asleep dreaming about buying onions, and I woke up on a mission to go out and get them.
Our family piled into the car, and the first place we went was to the nursery. The man we first encountered helped me find the onions I came for (and even comped my kid a packet of watermelon seeds, which was totally sweet and unexpected), and then placed my seed onions into an empty, paper sugar bag, and we were on our way. We stopped to run a few more errands, and every stop we made, I felt the need to complain about how the day was slipping away and soon it would be unbearably hot for planting these onions.
(My apologies to my family.)
At our last stop, my husband and kids went into the store, and I stayed behind for a moment. I went onto Facebook on my phone and saw the heart-shattering news that Rachel Held Evans had died after an infection and subsequent critical illness. The tears began to flow (and have continued to flow throughout the day).
When we returned home and heated up some lunch, I found myself thinking about onions again. These ridiculous onions! I made myself eat something, and then I put on my floppy garden hat and spent the next hours under the baking sun planting 100 seed onions.
In a reflection Rachel wrote about bringing her son into a world that seemed chaotic and unsafe, she turned to Madeline L’Engle. In And It Was Good, L’Engle wrote about the Cold War and the fears she had about raising children in such uncertain times. As she reflected on this, L’Engle wrote, “Planting onions that spring was an act of faith in the future for I was very fearful for our planet.”
As I have grown in my gardening skills and experience, I have realized the beauty and the risk involved in planting things. We can do all the right things as we amend the soil, tend the plants, and give them just the right amount of water. We can companion plant so that differing plants help each other grow to their full potential. We can painstakingly pull every squash bug off of the zucchini plant. And one hail storm can ruin it all.
Garlic, onions, and chives are amazing plants because they are often started in the fall. They are tenderly committed to the earth, covered over, and left to endure the harshness of winter, all on the faith that in the spring they will arise victorious, having triumphed over the pain and peril of the cold.
Rachel Held Evans noticed a story I had written about my calling into ministry, and she shared it with her readers. She took that vulnerable, uncertain, in-sore-need-of-an-editor post, and lifted it up and gave it light. She encouraged me to keep going, which was an encouragement I sorely needed. I share this not because it is special but because this was how she interacted with the world – always ready to point to someone else, always eager to share light, life, and love with anyone near to her.
I struggle as I think about the world without Rachel in it. I am heartbroken as I think about her young children, her husband, her parents, her sister. I am floundering because none of it makes sense. But today, I woke up on a mission to plant onions, and I planted them – each one like a tear falling into the earth as a prayer for resurrection.