First Thoughts: Stockton Community Garden 

Ever since I returned from Semester at Sea, I realized that there are adventures everywhere! I don’t have to leave New Jersey to find something new or to travel to a new place. This week I was tasked with writing my first thoughts of a new project at my University: the community garden. The following was my response:

It was golden hour when I decided to head out to the Stockton Community Garden for the first time. The sky was no longer its vibrant blue—it was embellished with hues of yellow, orange, and pink—and the glaring sun was now hidden behind the tree-line. The golden cast that draped the trees and the plants as I made my way through dark-path, illuminated my mind on how this small project would make a ripple effect on the larger community. And that is perhaps the purpose of this project; to take something as small as a garden and to plant seeds of change.

Once I reached the garden, it was evident that there was much work to be done: weeds to be pulled; chairs to be placed; and flowers to be planted. It is larger than I expected, and the flowers beds fit perfectly like a strategically formed puzzle.

While looking at the flower beds, I began to envision what my project would look like and chose the perfect location to begin getting my “green thumb.” Just like the golden cast of the hour, I visualized the hexagon-shaped center flower bed filled by a splendor-ocean of large, yellow sunflowers—each embodying one of the 121 lives taken by mental illness and ultimately by suicide every day. Sunflowers one may ask, not only reflect the sun as an omniscience power that lights envy inch of darkness, but it is the symbol chosen by a family in my hometown to remember their daughter who committed suicide a few years ago. This family used their darkness to “Spread the Love” and in their daughter’s name, help those battling through similar situations.

And maybe my project of planting sunflowers will be limited in scope compared to the many efforts to erase mental illness stigmas and the many campaigns encouraging those who need it to seek help, but these seeds of change could grow into a tree of hope for many of those battling their inner demons, or it could symbolize closure to many of those in our community who’s lives have been ravished by this plaguing reality. As the sun peaked through the trees, I remembered all of those in my life who gave up on living and now are just part of that statistic—some who I went to high school with and others who were family members of those closest to me. Moreover, I recognized those who were not successful: those whose own helplessness drove them so close to the breaking point and now must live everyday with the nightmare of almost taking their own lives.

As I sat there and soak it all in, I remember those nights when I myself battled through my personal demons. Those that were not strong enough to convince me that my life wasn’t worth it, but those that inhibited my ability to be profoundly happy—those were demons that made me question my worth and accomplishments. I was able to find my sun in those moments, just as I was able to spot the warming rays at the garden one more time before heading back home.


Quote of the day: “Travel makes you realize that no matter how much you know, there is always more to learn.”


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