Hello my name is Katey Branch and I want to tell you a story. It’s a love story and a tragedy, there is irony and redemption and a hopeful ending. 10 years ago one of the the loves of my life was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. We had two children together and had spent a dozen years devoted to creating a beautiful life. Even so, we were respectfully divorced. Alan Day was an intensely charismatic man committed to making the world a better place and acting from love. He was 53 and our children were 14 when he was diagnosed with 4th stage pancreatic cancer metastasized into his abdomen. Watching this vibrant man wither away in front of our eyes was __torturous–. The grief and sadness was astounding and overwhelming. How many of you have lost loved ones? In a flash you can draw up that grief and longing to have them return, right?
The visceral pain of loss was palpable for me. Tears were a daily occurrence and retreating from the busyness of life was required. At the same time I experienced this intense awareness of being alive. A stark relief of the contrast of watching our loved one disappear as his organs and senses shut down while our own hearts kept pumping lifeblood through our veins. An exquisite understanding of the preciousness of life was unavoidable. Seeing the sun rise and hearing the chickadees call, watching the loons return to the pond, having the dogs run into my arms all brought electrical shocks of ecstatic life energy. Facing the death of this man who was such a major piece of our lives made the impermanence of life real.
All the silly little things that used to stress me out like being late, burning the toast, running out of gas or forgetting an appointment were so….inconsequential compared to dying. That experience relieved a lot of stress for me for quite a while. It also brought into focus the really important things like listening to my daughters and saying I love you and being present for whatever was going on for them. Many of the distractions of life no longer grabbed me in the same way. And feeling the beauty and wonder of being alive was amazing.
Watching Alan die brought up all the other loses that are happening all the time around us: The loss of clean water to drink all over the world, the destruction of wild habitat and the extinction of species, the unfathomable amount of plastic we are covering the planet in; The number of children who are hungry, the number of women who are raped, the number of people who die in wars and gun related deaths. It made me realize, in the scheme of things, time is short and what do I want to do with this one precious life I have.
I have been an environmentalist all my adult life and have made conscious choices about how I live and eat and build community… but it didn’t feel like it was enough and it felt like a privilege I could choose, because I could afford to build an energy efficient house, and grow and buy organic food. I am keenly aware of how our agricultural system in the US is based on pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and an enormous investment in oil to run machines and deliver goods around the country. I had been growing my own food for decades, as a private act of boycotting a system I knew was killing the earth and people with government subsidized, processed foods that have very little nutrient value. After 30 years of turning the soil with my hands, weeding the witchgrass out, watching life magically sprout from seeds and eating the fruits of my labor, I knew the healing value of growing, eating and sharing food. The joy of losing track of time outside in the garden, drinking in the sun, getting dirty and loving it, has impressed upon me the importance of our contact and connection to nature.
Alan had left a 3 acre parcel of land on Whitman St in Norway for our daughters. We talked about what could happen with that property and decided we wanted to do something here with our own hands that would have a global impact and honor their dad. We connected with other people in the area to see if they were interested in creating a community garden, to grow local organic food together as a way to make a difference in our community and world. And they were! Lots of people came out to create the community garden and honor the memory of Alan Day.
It is Invigorating, thrilling, hard work with many challenges, many unknowns and what I experience as miracles. It has taken perseverance, a lot of work, lots of laughter and discoveries and fun and mistakes. It has taken the good hearts and hands and support of many people, some are standing right here, who believe in creating a more self-sufficient and interdependent community together, where we help each other out because it is then that we feel our connectedness and know we belong. We are experiencing a crisis of loneliness and abandonment in our world that is leading to depression, suicide and acts of violence. It seems worth the work to create a place where people can come together to grow food, learn about each other and the earth, and in some small way take local action to address global issues.
Helena Norber-Hodge (International Society for Ecology and Culture) wrote:
“The wonderful thing is that as we decrease the scale of economic activity we actually increase our well being, That’s because at the deepest level localization is about connection. It’s about re-establishing our sense of interdependence with others and the natural world. And this connection is a fundamental human need.”
Why am I taking up your time to tell this story? Because I want to encourage you not to wait until you lose a loved one to be inspired to step out of your own comfort zone and follow your heart to make a difference in the way you can. Every one of us is gifted and special and has something essential to contribute to our family, community, and the earth. You are a valuable member of our community and your contributions are essential. As Joanna Macy, an 87 year old eco-feminist buddhist activist says, we are on the brink of a great turning and it us up to us to shift the direction of where we are going in a more positive direction, taking life and community into account. And as I borrow from the book title by Charles Eisenstien: To create “The More Beautiful World our Hearts know is possible”.
I hope you’ll come visit Alan Day Community Garden at 26 Whitman Street and share your vision of the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.
Thank you, Katey Branch