The Garden of Indifference

Yesterday I woke up, went to the kitchen to make myself a nice cup of morning tea and, through the window to my little garden nook, saw a girl peeing.  It was not a little girl, mind you, peeing in my garden, but a young woman.


At that moment I was taken aback and would have retreated (probably back into bed) had she not quickly left. But now reflecting on it, I''m reminded of a passage in Henry Miller''s Rosy Crucifixion, where he accuses the reader, in an almost shocking way, of trampling on the garden of his art, and -- "You, reader, you!" he says, jumping off the page -- pissing on his daisies.


It''s not that my garden is so delicate or pretty. Currently, there is some kind of mattress there that someone hurled from the other side of the wall, and shards of broken glass, which seem to fall from the windows above with the regularity of winter rain.


I once kept the garden well. It''s a tiny Tel Aviv space, but I would hoe it, bringing up a rich black earth -- and, one time, an enormous kitchen knife. I planted succulents that thrived in the angle of sunshine, and trimmed back the creeper that runs wildly up and down the sidewall.


But the succulents were eaten by rabbits which my neighbors decided to let loose for just long enough to decimate the growth. Coke cans began to spring from the black soil more often than sprouting plants. Pajamas and underwear became tangled in the beautiful hibiscus tree there, fallen from the laundry lines of neighbors who apparently consider their clothes disposable.


I''ve imagined myself cheerfully tending to it all -- weeding up the discarded bedding, harvesting the cans, pruning away the pajamas. But what would be the point? Someone would inevitably show up and piss on my daisies.


This past week, I attended a meeting organized by a young Tel Aviv municipality official who wants Tel Aviv''s young internationals to get involved on a local level.  The skepticism in the room was so thick it could have been served on a platter. Everyone wanted to know (including myself) at just what point the project would break down into a sad tangle of bureaucratic obfuscation.


But this young official, whom I''ll speak more about in the coming weeks, is right. And I am wrong. The mattress, the cans and the pajamas in my garden -- and the dirt, the grime, the sidewalks pockmarked with dog feces, the broken curbs, the litter of prostitution ads, the trash strewn around the cans, the absent bike lanes, and the indifferent, sometimes inconsiderate, neighbors in the city are not reasons to not act, but reasons to act.


An Israeli friend once marveled at the community initiatives led by Anglos in this city. He explained something I hadn''t before understood: Israelis, he said, are too concerned with surviving. He described a mentality of calamity, a foreboding felt by young Israelis that something really bad is going to happen. Rather than going out to garden, debate, or pick up after their dogs, they''re busy hunkering down.


But it seems young Israelis are starting to perk up. This summer they came out to demand change at the tent protests. But demands are nothing if the people making them don''t have an immediate, eager willingness to actually make the changes they''re demanding. (And this might be the central explanation for the failure of the tent protests.)



Indifference begets indifference. And all indifference begins on the smallest and most local of levels. In Israel, the big problems are so big that the little ones disappear. But what we fail to understand is that they spring from the same root, with the one leading to the other.



"Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our will are gardeners," Iago says to Rodrigo in Othello. Surely the same is true of our cities, of our natural spaces, of our country, of our society. But it all starts in our own backyard where, cheerfully (I hope), I will be doing some of my own gardening this weekend. And for you, reader, as much as for myself, I''ll be planting daisies.

Ashley Rindsberg is the author of Tel Aviv Stories.