By Ric Hudgens
I am thinking about people who live their lives as if they were seed.
The Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos (1931-2020) wrote in 1978: “what didn’t you do to bury me / but you forgot that I was a seed.” (translated by Nicholas Kostis).
Young Mexican activists started a movement using a similar phrase in 2013 after 43 students disappeared in Iguala, Mexico: “They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds.” (see the blog entry with the same title, An Xio, Hyperallergic, July 3, 2018).
Even Jesus of Nazareth had said something similar 2,000 years ago: “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24).
We often think in metaphors about human life and the living of our own lives. Kirstie Pursie offers seven that are common: climbing a mountain, taking a journey, tending a garden, building a house, a race, a battle, a prison. (Kirstie Pursie, “7 Metaphors for Life: Which One Better Describes You and What Does It Mean”, Learning Mind, March 20, 2019). All of these are illuminating. There is probably a metaphor (or several) hidden in your life.
But today, I want to think about just one. Whether we can choose our life metaphors or must come to terms with them is a different question. Talk to your therapist, pastor, girlfriend, or drinking buddy. Today I want to think about living as if we are seeds.
Seeds are valuable in more than one way, of course. What appears good to a bird may appear quite different to a farmer. To a farmer, what matters is a seed’s planting value. Is it live seed or dead seed? Only live seed will plant and grow.
But basic to all seeds (eaten by a bird or planted by a farmer) is that we discover their value when we plant them – when they stop being seeds.
One of my favorite novels is Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier (1997). In the film version, there is a scene where the character Maddy says: “See, I think there’s a plan. There’s a design for each and every one of us. You look at nature. Bird flies somewhere, picks up a seed, shits the seed out, plant grows. Bird’s got a job, shit’s got a job, seed’s got a job. And you’ve got a job.”
Living your life like a seed means recognizing your life has purpose, is part of a plan. I’ll let you decide whether that plan is evolutionary, existential (i.e., self-chosen), or “elect” (i.e., divine). The point is that living like a seed recognizes our current state is not our ultimate state. Even if we are mere food for worms, we are still food. Our bodies are part of a cycle of decay and renewal. We are not an end in ourselves.
Whether a seed knows its value is irrelevant. A seed’s value is in not remaining a seed. Living like a seed involves recognizing purpose and, if everything goes right, the reality of impermanence. A seed only remains a seed if something goes wrong.
Also, seeds won’t grow just anywhere, but they have the potential to grow everywhere. The right conditions matter. There is an ecological component to a seed’s initial growth and ultimate maturity. Without the proper soil, adequate rainfall, and the right amount of sunlight, each seed is just a seed.
But some seeds take root in the cracks of a sidewalk or between the rails of a train track. Once a seed is planted, it might grow anywhere.
However, the old greeting card quip “bloom where you’re planted” is easier said than done. Some environments are not conducive to growth. There are often justice issues involved in not being able to grow. Or maybe you are the seed that needs to be planted (or replanted) somewhere to address them.
It often feels safer to remain a seed. We may live in a neighborhood of seeds, attend church with seeds, only work among seeds, or go to school with them. Saving seeds can be a good thing, but keeping seeds safe is not why seeds exist. Seeds exist to be planted.
Planting begins a process of breaking apart, changing, growing. Seeds that get planted don’t remain seeds. They don’t feel safe anymore.
Some seeds need fire to break them open. There are plants called pyrophiles. They need fire to reproduce. Sometimes we need a symbolic fire to introduce the change we are hesitant to embrace. It’s not unusual for some unwanted change to introduce something positive.
The joke goes: Someone asked their doctor, “Doctor, am I going to die?” and the doctor said, “That’s the last thing you’re going to do.” While our death is certain, it is also part of a natural process of decay and renewal. Our bodies are part of a natural process.
When Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies” he was mixing a metaphor. Seed doesn’t actually die. But maybe you and I need a type of death to break us apart. Unless something dies, the decay and renewal process cannot continue. In the natural world, decay always leads to renewal of some kind.
Beginning to live as seed means holding our current life structure lightly. This might just be our seed form. Look for the right place to plant yourself. Maybe you’re already in it, or perhaps something needs to change. Realize that while it may feel safe remaining a seed, a seed is not all we are meant to be. Don’t panic when “things fall apart.” Learning to live with both impermanence and potential is what being a seed involves.
We are seeds.
March 20, 2021 (the first day of spring)