By Cecilia Toro
Earth Day wasn’t a day I particularly paid much attention to while growing up – probably because I was so absolutely terrible at all my science classes. But, as I grew older and became more aware of all that this beautiful planet is and does and holds – it’s impossible not to care. It’s home and we must treat it as gently and as kindly as we can, and do so with as much consideration and respect for other living things.
And, to properly celebrate such a day, I thought I’d share a bit of a personal experience that reminded me how incredible nature is.
When I came back to Puerto Rico after graduating, I felt a little lost. I hadn’t found a job and was kind of aimlessly wandering around. I tried doing the things I’d get up to when I got to spend some time here during term breaks; reaching out to old friends, reading at the beach, going for long walks, etc.
But reality has a way of setting in, making you feel like you can only distract yourself for so long. Suddenly, the things you once enjoyed lose some of their purpose or meaning. And there’s only so much waiting you can do before you start thinking “maybe I’m not doing enough.”
A few months later, I met someone who was a volunteer at El Bastión, a museum near where I live.
We chatted for a bit, and she gave me a very quick tour of that beautiful space – but what was really special was the community garden that was part of that museum and La Casa Blanca in Old San Juan.
“We could use the help,” she said. I was so happy to know such a place could exist, I could barely say anything at all.
I realize how wonderful agreeing to help has been for my mental health, my wellbeing, and my relationship to the people and spaces around me.
Saying yes at that moment opened up an opportunity for me to learn new things about myself.
Patience with all things around us
Slowing down to appreciate our surroundings might sound easy, but I found it incredibly difficult at first. I’m often in my head and thinking about what more I could be doing so focusing on the here and now has been especially difficult. If I learned anything while volunteering at this garden is that good things take time and that patience can nurture a real sense of gratitude in us. Having to really focus on what I was doing and making sure I handled these plants with great care meant I couldn’t just finish the task at hand as quickly as possible. I had to be aware of every little thing.
And, sure, I also mean patience literally, because – no matter how much sun or water these plants get – you can’t rush ‘em! You get to see them grow, from being small seedlings to sturdy, beautiful, green trees, and you feel so lucky to even play a small part in that.
A willingness to try something new despite any initial hesitation
I am in no way outdoorsy (or outdoorsy adjacent) so this was a little out of my comfort zone. It took me a good month or two to know how to not accidentally over(or under)water these plants, pick fruits before they were ready, or mistake herbs for weeds.
But, once I was able to recognize what each thing was, I felt so comfortable being there. Suddenly, I wasn’t so terrified of making mistakes because nature is incredibly resilient. Despite rain or drought, these plants will adapt. And, if they’re struggling a bit, they’ll show you.
It taught me a thing or two about paying attention and being more present. When you’re aware of the space around you, you can move with it, work with it, and understand it better than you imagined. This, in turn, helps you understand yourself a bit better. You can be as resilient if you know how to listen and look closely at what you need.
Learning to focus on what we have, not what we might be missing out on.
The thing I’ve enjoyed most is that, despite a series of strict curfews and a few lockdowns, this place was a constant. It was such a breath of fresh air from all the horror and anxiety we lived and are living through currently. It was an example of how life doesn’t stop. It can grow beautifully even if we feel like all hope is lost. You just have to remember there is so much more to be grateful for than not.
Every single time I visit, this place teaches me something new and I’m infinitely grateful for the experiences that have led me to this point in my life, where I can look at the world around me with almost a child-like innocence and appreciate all that the Earth is and has been for us.
So I hope this can serve as a reminder that small changes in our everyday routines can help, and it starts when we say “I can do this.” And, believe me, this applies to the way we relate to our planet and other living creatures. After all, one small change can have a big impact on so many other things.