By Jean Blish Siers *
The best remedy I know for dealing with the news these days is getting away from my iPad and into a field. At a time when America and the world feels increasingly divided, unable, or unwilling to understand the feelings, needs, thoughts, or dreams of our neighbors, working together to benefit someone else has a surprisingly calming affect.
Last week, we gleaned grapes at Pastor Larry’s Prayer Vineyard. Pastor Larry serves a large church in the suburban area north of Charlotte, and he and his father planted the vines several years ago. His father, who recently passed away, was a viticulturist, which is a fancy word for grape grower. Larry says, when he’s in the vineyard, he can still feel his father’s presence, and it’s a peaceful place.
I agree. In the distance, roosters crow and hawks call. Bees buzz in the vines, sampling the produce, but pretty much leaving us alone. Once a week, we go out with a dozen or so gleaners to pick the muscadines as they ripen. The sweet grapes scent the air, which smells divine in the autumn sunshine.
At the field last week, long-time volunteer Arlene arrived with spiffy new boots, a rich red with happy chickens on them. And her daughter, Rachel, pulled on her boots – blue with cows. Then Roslyn, who has gleaned with us for years, tugged on her boots, in a snazzy zebra stripe. I’ve worn the same pink polka dot boots to every gleaning for the past five years. It struck me how different our boots were, and in many ways how different we were, and yet we were all there for the same reason.
Arlene and Rachel are Jewish and were delighted to come out and glean grapes on Rosh Hashanah. “We’re starting the new year right,” Arlene said. Arlene and Rachel took the grapes they picked (supplemented by gleaners from a local Presbyterian Church) to Angels and Sparrows Soup Kitchen, a ministry attached to a different Presbyterian Church.
Roslyn attends a Missionary Baptist Church in a neighboring county. She was taking grapes to seniors and shut-ins in her community, but she is also one of my regular drivers, delivering good to a refugee group in Charlotte, helping our newest neighbors know they are not alone.
It was a teacher workday for our local schools, and a couple gleaners brought their grandchildren, who worked hard in the hot sun, proud of every bucket they filled.
That day we were black and white, Christian and Jew, young and not-so-young. I don’t pretend to know – or want to know – the political beliefs of anyone out there. For those two hours, none of that matters. We all have a common goal of feeding our neighbors. Our boots and our hands are made for gleaning, and that’s just what they’ll do!
* Jean Blish Siers is SoSA’s Charlotte Area Gleaning Coordinator.