Here’s a column reprint from 2003, which I was inspired to run today by a Facebook post by my friend Amy (you can see her here) whom I have known since first grade. She said: “The difference between a flower and a weed is judgment.”
It was a rare sunny day, and 9-year-old Jake, 2-year-old William, and I were going for a walk. As we passed our neighbor’s house, I warned Jake to stay out of her grass because shortly before I had seen it being sprayed with herbicide.
“Why did she do that?” Jake asked me. “There aren’t any weeds in her grass.”
I pointed to the white clover flowers. “Those are weeds, Jake. So are dandelions and buttercups and violets.”
Jake was indignant. “Those aren’t weeds, Mom! Those are flowers.”
Since I have been known to mow around the buttercups and violets in my own yard and vividly remember crying inconsolably as a child when my uncle sprayed all the dandelions in his yard, I tend to agree with Jake.
I started thinking about what makes a weed a weed and a flower a flower. Isn’t it all about choice? I have put buttercups in vases and transplanted violets into my border. I leave the dandelions in my yard alone, but I pull them up when they appear in the rose garden. To others, like my neighbor, only cultivated flowers are pretty.
Aren’t unplanned babies a little like weeds, springing up unwished for, disturbing the symmetry of the garden we have planned in our minds? Some people choose to let the “weed” grow, to see what it blooms into, to see how it alters the pattern of the garden with its unique beauty. Others remove it quickly–before they have a chance to see how beautiful it can be.
With literal weeds, though, at least we have a consensus. Even if I choose not to poison them, I know which flowers are supposed to be weeds and which are not. Under our laws, any unborn baby is a weed unless his mother decides he is a flower.
I recently read about a couple’s experience of expecting a baby with Down Syndrome. Everyone encouraged them to abort their baby because he wasn’t a perfect specimen, I don’t use chemicals in my garden, so my roses always get blackspot and most of the leaves fall off. But the flowers are still pretty, even if they won’t win any prizes.
Like most people, I have been shocked and saddened by the terrible tragedy of Laci and Conner Peterson. Even though Baby Conner never drew a breath, he has been given the dignity of a name and is mourned throughout the country. He was Laci’s baby, and we all know that she wanted him. Conner’s murderer will be charged with homicide, yet women pay physicians to legally kill babies every day.
We must fight to change a culture that says the lives of babies are valuable only on the say-so of their mothers. We must encourage women to take the chance of allowing “unwelcome weeds” to take root and grow.
We have lived in our house only a year and a half, and I haven’t done much gardening yet. I’ve been waiting to see what would develop. Last spring a green vine started growing up the side of my porch. I still don’t know what it’s called, but, like a baby, it grows fast. I began winding it through and around and under the porch railings. By midsummer it was like a hedge. I kept wondering whether I was making a fool of myself, letting some weed grow all over my porch, but my faith was finally rewarded. In July the vine blossomed with thousands of small, sweet-smelling white flowers. I would have missed that if I had mercilessly cut it down to the ground.
Jake’s last word to me on weeds was, “Those are flowers, and flowers can’t be ugly. All flowers are beautiful.”
As are all babies.
I now know that the vine in question was Sweet Autumn Clematis, and it continued to delight us every summer.