Thursday, October 04, 2018

Cris Meets Joe

Cris and Joe exchange a vigorous hand-shake, and just as Joe is about to join his shoveling friend, Cris interjects:

I and my friend here, he points at my crouching figure still holding an empty Publix bag in my hands, waiting for the delivery of the next shovelful of dirt…  we were just talking about the Lord. Do you know the Lord Joe?

Cris is not beating around the bush, and Joe doesn't strike me as 'beating around the bush' kind of guy either. I am half-amused half-intrigued to see how this is going to unfold. I don’t have to wait long.

Lord? Aaaaah Lord! Joe replies, O Lord and I are like THIS – he lifts his hand with the pointing and middle fingers pressed together in inseparable unity. We are like… best buddies.

Cris’ face beams with pure joy. Here we are, gathered around the compost pile of all places, four complete strangers, worshiping the Lord together. Joe’s shoveling friend is included in this community by proxy. Cris hasn’t determined the nature of his relationship with the Lord yet.

Even though it’s quite warm, a shiver goes down my spine. Something about the gesture and Joe’s inflection when he says ‘best buddies’ makes me cringe.

Really?!!?! That’s wonderful!, says my friendly giant, not a trace of guile. I met Jesus five months ago. I love my church! You can come to visit any…

Joe continues as if Cris said none of this.

The Lord loves me so much, I am like his favorite. He gave me gold… gold teeth, see... Joe stretches out a corner of his mouth to reveal quite a sight of dental carnage. He sent a bullet through my mouth on my last tour and saved my life so I can get gold instead of my old yellow teeth.

My heart sinks into my dirt filled shoes.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Meet Joe

I am not in a chatty mood and I feel like I’ve already met my daily kindness quota by allowing him to fill my bags his way - quickly and efficiently.  Still, no point in being rude, so I respond with all the eloquence I have left in me:

Hi Cris.

He must have gotten the message of my downward inflection, because next few shovelfuls happen in silence.

But, as I said, he is a friendly, sincere giant and he can’t help himself:

What a wonderful day the good Lord has given us!

The whole hell may be breaking loose at a different place at this time, and the same might have been true of us in some moment in the past or coming our way in the future. But right here right now I can't argue with Cris. 

The sky above us is a glorious shade of cerulean blue.

Both of us drove to the landfill in our respective vehicles with enough gas to get us here and back.  Enough food in our stomach to have enough strength in our bodies to carry not only our own weight but a loaded shovel as well. 

What more can one expect from life?!!??  

The Lord indeed is good. 

I grunt an affirmative, Uh-huh, reaching for another bag from the trunk.

He sees this as an opportunity and jumps in with both feet.

Do you know the Lord?

It’s a simple, yes or no question, but like a witness in a senate hearing, I find myself fumbling for a simple answer. Saying ‘yes’ sounds rather presumptuous and kind of arrogant. I can't even say that I know myself! 

But I can’t say ‘no’ either.  

While I am still pondering the best way to summarize my 30+ tumultuous years with Jesus, Cris proceeds with his own answer to his question:

I met Jesus five months ago! I am going to the best church in town! Come to visit us on any Sunday! Our pastor is …

His 600wpm soliloquy is blissfully interrupted by another truck that backs up into our pile. Two men in work-worn jeans jump out, each of them with a shovel in hand.

My friendly giant stops both the soliloquy and shoveling, to greet the newcomers.

Hi there! I am Cris.

Hi Cris. I am Joe. And this is my friend…

But his friend is already furiously at work, shoveling dirt into the bed of their pick-up truck.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Meet Cris

A truck rumbles in, backs up into the compost pile. The driver jumps out, slams the door behind him, shovel in hand:

I’ll help you fill up your car, a mound of dirt stacked high in his shovel all ready for delivery.

I look up at the burly giant with a huge smile wrapped around his entire head. It’s the kind of face that knows no strangers – friendly, boyishly sincere and utterly disarming. But I have my own weapons too.

I’m good. Thanks.

It will only take a minute…

This is not a suggestion. And it’s not asking permission.  It’s a statement of irrefutable fact with the loaded shovel to prove it.

No. Really, I am good. I have time. I have a system going… I point at my earbuds and the playlist on my phone.

He tilts his head to one side examining the strange animal with iPhone, a small shovel and time on her hand. The fact that he is probably three times my size doesn’t help my case either.

It’s an unusual standoff.  Two people intent on doing good, no matter what.   

Two people, same goal but vastly different ways of securing how it is accomplished.

It's remarkably obvious that the friendly giant needs to help. All that friendly giant sees is my empty trunk and my tiny shovel. He is a smart giant who puts two and two together. Help needed! His shovel is ready, whether I am ready for it or not. He wants to help, whether his help is helpful to me or not.

What the friendly giant doesn’t understand is that my coming to the compost pile is not only to fill up my trunk with good dirt. It’s a sacred space of reflection and a reliable escape route from my stretched out, stressed out world. I need this reminder of the basics of life. Dirt. Seed. Love. Time. Growth. Repeat. 

I seem to be able to digest these basics only in bite-size chunks. Not a dump truck load, but one small shovelful at a time. 

I look at him again and something tells me that in this very moment, the giant’s need to help is far greater than my need for solitude and whatever escape the mount of dirt provides. So, I stretch out my hands holding the bag and he happily loads it up.

Hi. I am Cris. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Method and Madness

Everybody who comes here means business. We come with what we have - trucks, cars and trailers, armed with shovels, gloves, containers and the determination to get the job done quickly, efficiently and leave.

Except for the scraping of our shovels it’s usually quiet. The sound of silence a therapeutic backdrop for the rhythmic scrape-thump-scrape of the tools.  When I pause to catch my breath and look around, I realize my neighbors are a miniature cross-section of the United Nations. Maybe that’s why we don’t talk – we may not speak the same language! And yet, there is a sense of comradery here, you can almost scoop it in the palms of your hands and feel its weight and texture.  

I wonder what it is about this uncomely spot that melts the barriers and unites us.

Part of me thinks we all are a little (or perhaps a LOT) crazy. Who in their right mind leaves the comfort of their air conditioned home and braves Florida summer heat and humidity to get… dirt???

Of course, as Shakespeare warned us, where there is madness, there could be very well be a method hiding behind. 

I look at my sweaty, filthy dirt-mates with fresh eyes and I see not the raggedy crazies but visionaries of the worlds that for right now exist only inside their heads. But give it a month or two, those visions will sprout and grow, change and transform, from dirt and seed, into a stalk of tomato, a cucumber vine, a daisy and a marigold.

It was on one such day that I met first Cris and soon after Joe and his friend Sam.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Other Black Gold

I often wondered what it was about the compost pile that marked the turning point?

If you went, there wouldn’t be much to see in that place. Some may say ‘nothing to see at all’.

No blinding glory and no beauty for sure.  Almost an exact opposite of the Home Depot garden center.

The best way to describe it would be a large pile of dirt under the giant canopy of blue sky. That’s it.

Just dirt. Pure, unadulterated dirt.

The Pile lives on the outer edge of the city, just beyond the city limits on the county landfill property. It is located a stone’s throw away from the gated entrance, not too far from the recycling facility, but some ways from the actual landfill where our community stinky garbage is carefully, professionally buried and beautified into rolling hills of Florida.  

Everything that is discarded from the residents’ lawns and gardens – trimmed overgrowth, storm tossed broken limbs, weeds, lawn clippings, fallen leaves, dried out potted plants once given as gifts to incompetent brown thumbs like me – all our ugly, useless and burdensome is collected weekly and combined together into gardening wreckage heaps.  These giant monstrosities are then marinated and slow-baked in the heat and humidity until the magic of time and some fantastic science turn them into the other black gold.  

Once ready, the gold is graciously moved closer to the entrance where it is freely given to any resident willing to come, grab a shovel and get his or her own.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Where Gardeners are Made... or Not

My rich history of failure has taught me that regular visits to the neighborhood Home Depot garden center will NOT automatically turn me into a gardener.  

It always seemed like such a logical place to start... All that glory and beauty, inspiration and elevation - it's bound to have some effect.  But, the effect was short-lived at best. The oversized marigolds which were calling my name there, once home suddenly lost their luster and somehow shrunk to an unimpressive size. They quickly wilted in the heat of the day and, eventually dried out and dead, would get flung onto the compost pile on the side of the house with the rest.

Still I found myself like a crack addict coming back for more, mindlessly roaming the aisles of green, watching busy shoppers pushing their stuffed up carts with pots of marigolds and bags of manure, mulch and Miracle Gro.

I guess gardening and logic do not always go hand in hand.

I couldn't get the thought out of my mind: 

If Home Depot garden center is not the place to learn how to become a gardener, then what is????

I don't know if it was around that time that I first heard about the landfill or something caused that previously acquired information to finally 'click'. It’s not the type of common knowledge you share with other customers while waiting in the Walmart checkout line. 

Have you been to the landfill lately?  Have you seen the latest pile of junk they've got?

Right now I can’t even remember who told me about it first. 

All I know, my initial trip there marked the beginning of an utterly new chapter in my gardening life, a genuine paradigm shift of sort. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Be Careful What You Pray For

In retrospect, I realize I didn’t really mean what I said in that desperate prayer. 

What I was really hoping to see was a swooping deity coming to my rescue, fixing my stubborn lawn problem with a flick of his almighty green thumb completely apart from me, apart from anything that I would or could be doing. With the HOA and our relentless next door neighbor thus finally off my back, I would be able to return to living my life the way I always have. Everybody happy, everybody getting what they wanted. End of story.

Some of us are raised to believe that such is the nature of real miracles which happen to accompany real faith.  Anything short of that simply doesn’t count.

I can't pretend to be an expert on either prayer or miracles. You may say that God got me on the technicality – I indeed have said, Make me a gardener, even though what that meant to me apparently was significantly different from what it meant to God.

I guess He took me for my word and ran with it. In fact, He is still running with it. 

As they say, Be careful what you pray for. You may just get it.

Of course, hind sight being 20/20, with this twenty-ish year perspective I see how this has worked for my greater advantage.  I was asking for one thing,  but He chose to give me something far better than a quick fix, a 'Raman noodle' miracle.

Still, I realize that like Limburger cheese, some may find 'aged', 'slow cooker' miracles an acquired taste.