Weeds and Life

By Dr. John Cuddeback on February 2, 2022

Ethical Food and Agriculture

“Daddy, why do weeds grow faster than carrots?”

I was really struck by this question as my son and I worked together in the quiet of a beautiful evening in our garden.

Surely all plants are good in some way and have their place in the natural order. But nonetheless some are weeds. They do not belong here, at least now; they get in the way of the life that should be.

They seem to come out of nowhere. They sprout and they grow quickly. Almost without noticing, they are in the way, changing the life and growth of what really matters. Often the problem is their roots–they go deep and intertwine with and overwhelm the good roots.

But who am I to judge? Is it inappropriate and unfounded for me to condemn these plants?

This is a good question, and it raises large issues. I need to learn to see clearly if I am to judge well. Part of what I need to see is human reality, and our place in the cosmos. A garden is in many ways a little micro-cosmos, in which I can learn much about the way things are and the way they should be.

And how there are things in my life that are objectively weeds: things that feel so natural and quickly become part of the culture of my life; things that change my daily patterns for the worse.

Things that need to be rooted out, for the sake of the life that should be—a life that can be only if a space is cleared for it.

But why do weeds grow so fast? Is this somehow a cruel streak in reality or a design flaw, one that proves that what we consider ‘good’ is really just random or superimposed?

Perhaps rather that weeds grow so fast is part of the order. It trains the gardener to be alert and to watch—to see what really matters. Cultivating life is a project of constant vigilance: protecting, trimming, clearing a space.

Perhaps we need to discover how the ‘natural’—especially in human life—is not the ‘uncultivated.’ Rather, human nature is a cultivated and a cultivating thing.

Yes, Son, note well that weeds often grow faster than carrots. But that is alright. Let us attend to our rows. Life is not about speed. It is about care and cultivation of what is good, and about presence. And I am grateful to be here, with you.

– Dr. John Cuddeback is a husband, father, and professor of Philosophy at Christendom College. This blog original appeared on his weekly blog LifeCraft. He also serves on the Board of Directors for Catholic Rural Life.

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