Growing together

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jeffrey L. Neuberger
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing wing chaplain
In my dining room at home are several plants on a multi-tiered plant stand. A plant vase on the top tier contained a shamrock plant with multiple three-leaf clovers angling downward toward the planter below, which contained an African Violet. In the middle of the African Violet was a lone shamrock "reaching upward" as if to greet the other shamrocks.

When I asked my wife what happened she explained that a previous shamrock plant had died so she removed it from the soil and planted the African Violet. Later she acquired another shamrock which was the plant above the Violet. Apparently a seed from the former shamrock had germinated in the same soil as the African Violet and together they coexisted nicely, though the single shamrock did look a little lonely.

As we approach St Patrick's Day I cannot help but consider a lesson from the plant stand. As plants can co-exist in a shared soil, so Americans, as diverse as we are, coexist in a shared soil. I'm one of those persons who thoroughly enjoys cultural traditions of others as a way of understanding the diversity of life itself and people in particular.

Consider St Patrick's Day. St Patrick's Day commemorates the person of Patrick of Ireland, born of wealthy parents in Britain, taken prisoner by Irish raiders as a young boy and transported to Ireland where he became a shepherd. Best known for his missionary efforts to the Irish people, became the patron Saint of Ireland. We observe St Patrick's Day on March 17 because it was the day in approximately 460 A.D. that Patrick died.

A commemoration of St Patrick has become a way to celebrate "all things Irish." (No, I'm not Irish, but I'll be glad to join in!) What are some of those "Irish things" associated with St Patrick's Day? It starts, of course with the "wearing of the green" and involves parades, shamrocks, corned beef and cabbage, green beer and Leprechauns (which were originally Celtic but given a "makeover" in a popular 1959 Walt Disney movie entitled "Darby O'Gill & the Little People." Thereafter Leprechauns were associated with Ireland but were actually an American invention.)

It's interesting to note the tradition of a St Patrick's Day parade did not originate in Ireland but in the city of New York by Irish soldiers "deployed" to the colonies as members of the British army. On March 17, 1762, they conducted a musical parade as a way to celebrate St Patrick's Day and reconnect with their Irish roots. Since then the tradition of a parade has grown and today's parade in New York City parade boasts 150,000 participants and nearly three and a half-million spectators.

Today, Irish is the nation's second most frequently reported ancestry (next to German) with 34.7 million U.S. residents claiming Irish descent, almost nine times the population of Ireland itself. In three states (Delaware, Massachusetts and New Hampshire) Irish is the leading ancestry group; in every state but two (Hawaii and New Mexico) Irish is among the top five ancestries.

I learned a small lesson from my observation of a plant stand and the shared existence of the shamrock and the African Violet. Given the proper conditions for life in soil, water and light, together both can grow and thrive. The same is true of our shared existence as living beings in a nation called America. Given the right conditions we can thrive.