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To Weed or Not to Weed…That is the Question

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©Heidi Bratton Photography

Without any kind of a deep freeze this past winter, the weeds have had a field day (pun intended) this spring.  I don’t know about your neighborhood, but ours is totally infested with chickweed.  Now, chickweed looks innocent enough, with its dainty little white flowers and delicate stems, but don’t be fooled.  It’s a cold-blooded assassin.  It grows crazy fast and chokes out everything it touches, so if you don’t pull it as soon as you see it, it’s everywhere.  And what’s worse is that pulling chickweed also scatters its seeds.  I swear the little flowers do a happy dance when I yank it out because they know that every time I do that I become a chickweed farmer.  I did battle with it last year and barely held it at bay, but this spring is going to be really tough.  I’ve pulled it by hand; I’ve dug it out; I’ve hit it with Round-up; I’ve used weed-n-feed lawn fertilizer.  The stuff just keeps coming back. 

So today I hit the web and Google “chickweed” for ideas on how to eliminate the stuff once and for all.  I expect to find some recipes for homemade napalm or tips for scoring some black market DDT, but instead I turn up herbalists touting the medicinal benefits of chickweed, and vegan foragers telling me how I can use it in my salads.  I’m not kidding.  It was bad enough when I learned that dandelions greens are not only “delicious” but essential to the health of honeybees, and so I should let them flourish in my lawn.  But now chickweed?  Are you kidding me?!! Next they’ll be telling me that emerald ash borers are a good source of protein. No, this is where I draw the line. The chickweed must go.

But I will admit, the whole chickweed thing has me thinking.  What makes a weed a weed?  Is it a matter of where they’re growing?  Do dandelions and chickweed become weeds simply because they’re growing where I would rather have grass?  Isn’t it true that I consider even the grass itself a weed when I find it in my flower beds? Or is “weed-ness” a matter of usefulness? If I don’t see a purpose for dandelion or chickweed or countless other plants that find their way into my yard, I look for ways to get rid of them.

And that train of thought leads me to people.  Are there people in this world whom we treat like weeds?  They show up at the wrong time or in the wrong place, messing up our tidy little garden, and so we look for ways to get rid of them. 

Over a million times a year we abort them.  Wouldn’t Margaret Sanger, the foundress of Planned Parenthood be proud?  After all, she even used the terms “human weeds,” “reckless breeders,” and “spawning… human beings who never should have been born” to describe people she thought unworthy to procreate – people like the mentally disabled, the poor, and people of color. (The Pivot of Civilization, 1922).  And while it totally disgusts me that I might have anything in common with a person who would say such things, I have to wonder…

Does it bother me that our society works so hard to put certain “dandelion” people out of sight and mind?  Maybe there’s a reason housing projects are isolated and homeless shelters tucked away.  “Poor, what poor?  We don’t have any homeless people around here.”West Daytonor Over-the-Rhine?  Those places are miles from where I live and light years from my daily reality. How often do I just shrug my shoulders when I read about the latest gang killing or drug deal gone bad? Maybe that’s why I have so much trouble making eye contact with the beggars I encounter on highway exit ramps or on the walk to a Reds game.  Am I just treating them like the dandelions in my neighbor’s lawn, which don’t matter to me as long as they stay out of my grass?

But forget about strangers – what about the people I love the most? I don’t even want to think about how often I treat them like weeds who’ve invaded my private little garden. How many times am I caught not listening to my wife and children because something else “more important” has my attention?  How many times do I brush them off with a “Not now” or an unthinking “Uh huh” because I’m doing/watching/paying attention to something else?  How often have I chosen to act like Round-up instead of fertilizer for my own family?  Suddenly I’m pretty sobered by it all. 

Maybe to clear my head and sort things out I’ll go do some gardening.  And maybe I’ll sample a little chickweed while I’m at it.

[This article was originally published in the “Being Catholic” blog for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.]


Joe Ollier is a Catholic husband and father of four. He has almost 20 years experience in parish youth ministry and a Masters Degree in Theological Studies from the University of Dayton. Joe is currently the Coordinator of Youth Ministry at the Church of the Ascension in Kettering, OH, where he and his family are parishioners. His monthly “Jottings from Joe” can be found in the YouthNews on the Ascension Parish Youth Ministry website: www.ascensionkettering.org/youth-ministry.


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  • noelfitz

    a weed is a plant that grows again when it is pulled up; alternatively a weed is a plant growing in the wrong place.

    Thanks for this article, it provides food for thought.

    But to say we treat our children and spouses as weeds is a bit harsh.

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