I thought Vasona Park would be peacefully empty.Never have I been so wrong. Half of Silicon Valley’s denizens have come out to jostle each other on this bike path. Quiet and determined, people of all ages, origins, and sizes have donned spandex and baseball caps and charged into the available swath of nature, reclaiming their health for all to see.
I’m here to volunteer, I think proudly. Aren’t I wonderful? The volunteer coordinator, a tall, no-nonsense woman in park ranger green, shoves a spade, weed fork, gloves, and plastic bag at me, and points me towards the weeds. Several high school students wait to have their volunteer sheets certified—they need volunteer hours for UC admissions. I’m here by choice, I think.
I kneel down and tackle the weeds sprouting at the edges of the path. Joggers veer around me, irritated at this extra obstacle on their already crowded route. They irritate me, too, by being there at all. Our turned shoulders express our mutual irritation.
If I’m going to volunteer, shouldn’t I be helping people who really need it? I think. Not pulling weeds for one of the richest neighborhoods in the world. What am I even doing here?
“It’s hopeless! Just give up!” a guy shouts as he cruises by. “Weeds just grow back!”
I stab my weed fork deep into the earth.
Then my mind starts to follow the tiny tendrils of roots. My hands follow my mind, and I pull them out gently, seeing how intact I can keep them. I don’t hear the pounding shoes. I don’t feel the sun. I don’t hear someone asking me if I want to take a water break.
A woman stops and kneels beside me, white baseball cap shading her eyes. “Thank you for what you’re doing,” she says. “This park means so much to me.” I look up at her, surprised anyone else is there, annoyed at having to stop. Then I remember my pride and my shame and my irritation. Doing good makes me feel so guilty and inadequate. Doing good so often causes more trouble than it resolves.
As humanity has grown, it’s organized itself into larger and larger political entities. Nationalism is needed, I guess, so that armed with a sense of shared identity and a well-funded police department, these vast populations don’t simply squabble themselves to death. Nationalism and self-righteousness scare me, though. That’s why I write about cities and local places, not nations. They seem more real, less abstract.
Maybe next time I’ll just wear spandex and jog.
Anyway, happy birthday, America. May your do-gooding balance out on the good side in the end.