We’ve all hit the pandemic wall. Planting something can help

Illustration of two hands cupped around a mound of dirt, and a seedling rising out of it.
It’s time to get into the soil, even if it’s just a line of pots on your windowsill.
(Jamie Sholberg Los Angeles Times / Getty)

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I’m feeling it. Aren’t you? That chest-aching sense of doom and despair. One psychologist called it a collective demoralization, or maybe it’s just the end of hope. We’ve started a whole new year now and still — still — the normal we once knew is a far dot on the horizon, one that might well be a mirage.

There are plenty of things to grieve in our present world. COVID-19 has killed more than 425,000 people in the U.S. and 2 million around the world. Businesses are devastated. Jobs lost. Families and friends have been separated for months. Normalcy is shattered.

And my sense of accomplishment, that life-giving grease that keeps this country chugging along? Disrupted, folks. Definitely disrupted.

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The conversational “What did you do today?” sounds like a curse. Maybe early in the pandemic it was easier for some Type-A high achievers to answer: “Well, I rewrote my résumé, ate a homemade croissant and helped the kids build a Lego tower to the sun.”

But a year into the pandemic has made our accomplishment meters go berserk.

What did I do today?

I got out of bed, OK? I fed the dogs, mostly because they wouldn’t let me sleep.

But people, I’m telling you, there is one tried and true way to rekindle some self-worth, and it has nothing to do with sourdough starter:

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Jan. 22, 2021

Get into the soil, get into the soil, even if it’s just a line of pots on your windowsill.

Gardening can heal you. This is more than the make-your-bed cure touted by U.S. Navy Adm. William H. McRaven, that good things can flow from one simple act. “If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day,” McRaven said at his University of Texas commencement address in 2014. “It will give you a small sense of pride and encourage you to do another task, and another, and another. And by the end of the day, that one task will have turned into many tasks completed.”

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Raking the yard or refreshing the old soil in your overgrown pots can definitely give you that sense of accomplishment.


But gardening has a way to heal that’s more fundamental.

In many jobs, there is this sense of running in place, every day filling the same yawning hole — making breakfast, making dinner, washing dishes, washing clothes, cleaning the toilet, washing your hands ...

There is no treadmill tedium in gardening. Sure, weeding is no one’s favorite sport, but at the end you can see progress; you can see where you started and stopped.

You can rip open a packet of radish seeds, pat them into freshly dug earth and watch their tiny leaves sprout in just a few days. You can put a narcissus bulb into a jar of water and watch its green stem slowly thrust into the air and bloom. You can take a small tomato seedling, bury it deep in a pot filled with nourishing soil and watch it become a monster plant, heavy with miraculous fruit.

And all it took was a bit of time and tending, and faith that something good could happen.

This transcends our same old accomplishments, filling the same hole every day. In gardening, there is a beginning, a middle and a harvest, and always something to notice, even marvel at, every day.

Because, see, when you plant something, you are making a small investment in a better future, and really people, isn’t that what hope is all about?