Green Beans and Gratitude

I count blessings like I pick beans. Sometimes one by one, sometimes by the handful. Often by surprise.

It started years ago, at a dusty small-town market. I squinted into summer sun as the farmer shoved fistfuls of skinny green beans into a paper sack. “You ever try growing your own at home?” he asked. I nodded, a newbie gardener. “I’ll tell you a secret. If you pick the whole plant clean once it’s ready, it’ll keep producing all summer, into fall. You have to pick it clean—every single bean—or it won’t work. But then you’ll get seven pickings out of every plant. Promise.”

I drove straight home, marched over to our tiny patch of dirt in the back yard, and started picking.

My husband thought I was crazy. I picked beans all the time. I turned over every leaf, looking for just one more. I bent down, shuffling row after row, searching for slender shoots with my hands, until my poor back screamed to be released. I was determined to get all those plants could give.

Every year since, I pick beans. My husband is the gardener, but those Kentucky Wonders and Blue Lakes are my babies. In early summer, I spy tiny, tender white blossoms, and I get giddy. I start grabbing handfuls in July, and by August we’re in overload mode: fresh beans every night for dinner, bowlfuls blanched in boiling water to freeze for winter.

But here’s the secret that the farmer failed to tell me: it’s impossible to pick them all. Sure, you can try—and I do. Those mythical seven pickings hang in my head as a goal every year. But it never fails that come fall, when the first snowflakes swirl and my fingers turn clumsy from the cold, I turn over leaves to find over-ripe bunches I missed all summer long.

My first few years as a bean-harvester, this drove me nuts. I wanted to know what I was doing wrong, why I couldn’t find all the beans the first time. They were right before my eyes, right under my nose and among my fingers—how could surprises hide from me every year?

But this summer I finally let my frustration go. As I picked row after row in bright August sun, I paused to watch as my two sons played in their sandbox right outside the garden gate, happily digging in the dirt. I suddenly realized that the beans were the same as my boys: full of surprises and reasons for gratitude, always one more to be found if I looked twice.

Now when I pause to give thanks—for the rare sweet moments in days full of diapers and dishes—I picture my hands

pushing through thick tangles of leaves, searching for one more bean swinging from the vine. Whether it’s a tiny new sprout or a gnarled, overripe giant, there’s always another reason to be grateful, even when I have to search hard to find it.

The farmer was wrong; I didn’t have to pick every plant clean to enjoy all it had to offer. I simply had to give thanks for what I got.

Beans have become my gratitude practice, reminding me to keep searching, leaf by leaf, for small joys. Every time I’m sure I’ve exhausted the possibilities, that’s when I’m surprised, sometimes even shocked, to discover one more. One more reason to remember that this life we’re tending together as a family is pure gift.

QUESTION: What encounter with nature or with your kids has helped you to feel gratitude in an unexpected way?

CHALLENGE: The next time you feel the familiar stress of “I can never get it all completely done,” try to breathe into the imperfection and be grateful for “enough.”


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Images provided by the author.

 Originally published November 29, 2012.

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