So, how high should your grass grow?

We were mowing the lawn at the “old” house for the last time this week. It made me think about Esther Aglukark and it’s a story that’s worth telling, I think. It was one of those significant lessons in life.

I met Esther in 1991 at a youth conference we’d organized. We’d brought together 250 14 and 15 year olds to discuss world, provincial and federal issues that affect youth. Our conference attendees truly represented Canada and Esther is a native Inuit Canadian from Arviat. It took her two full days of travel to reach Toronto and she flew in a number of aircraft to get there.

When the conference was over, we were dropping kids back at the airport, waving goodbye and witnessing the tears of quick, intense friendships.

Except for Esther. She had arrived first. She had two days of awkward travel to get home. She would be the last to leave. In fact, she had two days to wait until her flight.

Now, look at a map of Canada and find Aklavik. It’s in our far north, where the greatest and highest vegetation is lichen. Its beauty is in its starkness. And for Esther, Ontario was a land of incredible vegetation. Trees! Carpets of grass! Flowers!

And here’s the story…

One of our organizers, Steve McDonald, said he’d drive Esther back to his house and then take her to the airport two days hence. Steve lives west of Kitchener in the village of New Dundee and he was hoping to arrange for Esther to visit a nearby horse stables for a ride and an up-close look at the animals that most enthralled her.

He also wanted to introduce this 14 year old to his wife and children.

The 90 minute ride from Toronto to New Dundee?gave both of them time to talk about their very different worlds. Steve was a member of the Optimist Club which helped organize the conference. But he also had a “day job” and talked to Esther about his work, about her school, about her cultural life, and about her reaction to the intense five days she’d just experienced.

As he pulled into his driveway, Steve made the comment most people would make when they’ve been away for a few days. “Wow! The grass is horrible. I’ve got to get this cut!” And he swung out of the car, grabbed Esther’s bag and headed into the house.

Esther just stood there.

She looked at the expanse of green that was Steve’s front lawn. It was soft. It was full of moisture. It smelled wonderful. It was a magnificent colour. It was so inviting, like magic. And it was bordered by the miracle of other growth, with a tall tree at its centre.

“Why would you cut it?” she asked.

Of course. Why, when you live on the rock, with winter 9 months of the year, with sparse vegetation so tiny that each piece is held sacred, why would you not have greater appreciation for the wonder of this lawn?

Esther brought for all of us a new vantage point. She took something that we no longer value or see as a negative factor in our residential lives, and gave it a new life.

Steve didn’t get his mower out that day. Nor the next. He didn’t cut the grass until several days after he’d driven Esther to the airport, out of respect for what she valued.

For me the lesson in all this has to do with relativity.

If Esther’s family moved next door to me, I’d expect that my values were their values. And I’d probably have some negative things to say if their lawn grew to a height of two feet, bursting with purple flowered thistles and blue headed chickory. Except for them, it would be glory.

It’s all relative, isn’t it?

And it was my final thought during the final mow at our old house.

Thanks, Esther. And, thanks Steve, for not cutting the grass.