Romaine

A couple of years ago, while perusing the Internet,  my wife came upon a picture of romaine lettuce. Not just any romaine lettuce, mind you. It was a romaine lettuce heart, root down in some water. And it was growing!

Liza has the mindset of 18th century Jews from central Europe, who experienced enormous deprivation: persecution, hunger, and generally, a bad time. She will save scraps of food even though she knows that no one will eat it, including herself. We have at any given time, a collection of Chinese food plasticware shoved into the refrigerator, filled with a piece and a half of wilted broccoli, leftover cooked rice as hard as gravel, a small piece of salmon that is slowly changing color, the things in the cheese drawer that may once have been cheese but are now wildly colorful fuzzy art.

So, the romaine lettuce, seemingly going through some form of biogenesis, was irresistible to her. Ever since then, we have a kitchen windowsill devoted to the ongoing harvest of little romaine lettuce clumps. It’s impressive.

I don’t get it, really. How can it grow like that without being planted in soil? Without any added nutrients in the water?? This isn’t what I learned in 5th grade science class!

But grow it does. Not a big, full head like the ones at Whole Foods, but absolutely, unmistakably, romaine. Imagine my surprise when, doing my daily, hourly New York Times reading, I saw an article about… wait… the regeneration of scallions! And that this is now a microtrend!!

There are undoubtedly many sure and certain explanations for the growth of scallion roots and romaine lettuce from a bowl of water  – not to mention, the apparent success of growing several other vegetables, like celery, fennel, and lemongrass. I know: chlorophyll, water, hydrogen/carbon dioxide exchange… and so forth. I’ve read about hydroponics…

But my theory is more spiritually-based, expressed first in Jurassic Park – the original, released in 1993. Jeff Goldblum, the actor who is always simultaneously cool AND a nerd, speaks one of the most famous movie lines of all time. He says, “Life, uh, finds a way.”

He means that, against all odds, we persevere. He means that there is some transcendent force – I call it God; Dr. Malcolm may mean it as simply the way DNA pushes ALL life forms to never surrender. But where it comes from is not as important as acknowledging that it exists. And it does.

Life finds a way. Read about the siege of Stalingrad, the American Civil War, the Spanish Flu outbreak, migrants walking on foot across swamps or deserts or mine fields. Despite every reason to the contrary, people put their heads down and walk right into the storm. Because that’s where freedom is. That’s where fellowship is. That’s where safety is. Life finds a way.

We’re living in a time haunted by the Angel of Death. Some of us go about our now circumscribed lives the best we can. We wave to others, we move through restricted spaces carefully, with respect for the way this virus spreads. But we venture out!

But then there are those who are utterly terrified, who see the spectre of the Angel of Death close by. Like the woman I saw yesterday who sat waiting in her idling car, her window open. As I approached from well over ten feet, she rolled her window up. That’s fear.

Yes, I know. The Angel of Death is a terrifying presence. It’s easy to bear down on the fear, to see everything as evidence of imminent demise. I have a newfound respect for the Angel of Death.

But when the terror grows so great, when everyone outside your quarantine circle is nothing more than a potential threat, then this world is only a grim anteroom to the grave. The shadow of the Grim Reaper snuffs out everything that is affirming, everything that creates beauty and light.

Yes, wear a mask when you go into the store, when you crowd along the trails or the beach. Wear gloves when they tell you to. Respect the Angel of Death. It’s a real force. But don’t forget. There is something even stronger than death.

Life will always find a way.

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