Dear Neighbor: Whitney Peckman: That nagging voice

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 20, 2024

By Whitney Peckman

Dear Neighbor,

Last year, I planted an azalea in a very large container alongside my raised bed gardens in the alley. Sadly, though the foliage grew well, the blossoms did not, and early in the summer I could see that the azalea was infected with some pest or disease. I read all the possibilities and concluded that spider mites had taken up residence. Groan. The plant was too large to effectively treat with insecticidal soaps. Should I go all shock and awe with chemicals? A side of me really, really wanted to. But realizing that I had food plants nearby and was courting birds, butterflies, bees and beneficial ladybugs, I understood that I would be shooting myself in the foot with the big gun chemical approach.

I wasn’t interested in killing off all the good pests we are beginning to understand and appreciate in our efforts to grow delicious fresh garden veggies, and some colorful summer flowers too. What would be the point after all, if I killed off all the biological diversity? “Still…” said that little nagging voice in my head… “It would be so much easier… and quicker… and, really, your downtown city alley hasn’t ever had anything green or flowering in it anyway, let alone organic.” The voice said, “Who’s gonna know?”

The easy way. That damnable nagging voice. Gives me a headache.

A few days ago, I took my order of street tacos from Lotería to Bell Tower Park. The plants had grown so much in a year. Our recent hot days have brought the blooms on. Such a nice variety, I thought. And such a nice variety of people too, walking, playing, enjoying the space and weather. And each other. Some clearly with people they came with. Others were chatting with people they seemed to meet in the moment. People being people, enjoying each other without the life being sucked out of them by the ubiquitous smartphone.

Even a casual perusal of articles or apps on the internet turns up poison spewed onto the reader like big gun chemicals on lawns and gardens. And like those big gun fertilizers and pesticides, we impressionable humans become infected with disease and ignorance that we spread. Our nagging voice, so appealing, confirms our ugliest fears, promises us complete obliteration of the bug taking up residence on our azaleas, or the bug of fear of our near or far neighbors — those Muslims, or Jews, or Blacks, or Hispanics, or gays, or Yankees, or Southerners, or…, or…, or… The fear bug of loss. Loss of what? Of power, money, influence, of all that is ours? Quickly then, it is so easy to take a side — on Gaza, on race, ethnicity, gender, or faith — while really knowing nothing except what that blog post, or media voice says. The nagging voice says. “Take a side. Pick a team! Otherwise, we will lose!”

Why do we do it? Why do we succumb to the nagging voice? That’s the question. Why do we fall for the easy answer? Why do we give in and buy the big gun chemicals? Why do we so easily poison our human garden? Why do we allow ourselves to be sold a bill of goods that will ultimately be our own disease and demise? Why, oh why, do we pick a side in something we actually know absolutely zip about? Why do we decide it’s ok to hate someone or something that our Creator put here in our human garden without first questioning what we’ve been told?

We have only to trust that by questioning, we can trust the answer our heart gives.

Walt Whitman said, “Be curious, not judgmental.” Walt Whitman gave us incredible beauty by observing all that was in his experience. We too must cultivate our curiosity, and that includes our curiosity about the sources of what we read and hear.

By the way, I didn’t choose the big guns. Eventually, neem oil did the job well enough, and the butterflies and bees are back. It’s good to swat the nagging voice of Ms. Easy Way Out.

“Dear Neighbor” authors are united in a belief that civility and passion can coexist. We believe curiosity and conversation make us a better community.