Saturday, March 24, 2012

Spiritual Formation For Dummies 101 – The Spitting Image

I decide to proceed more cautiously, actually thinking about choosing my words before I blurt out the first thing that pops into my mind. I even put a little bit of my heart into it, because I realize now that I really want to know the answer rather than just grab an opportunity to vocalize my opinion about how stupid somebody or something is. I take a deep breath before I try asking again:

So, why is rest so important to your dad?

I think he can tell there was a slight shift in my foundation, for I am squinching my toes and he smiles.

My Dad has invested so much of himself into our landscaping business. He loves the people that work for him and he loves the people we help with their landscaping needs even though some of them are real butt-heads.

There is not even a trace of reproach in his voice as he says this, and that actually makes me feel worse.

But, you know what, he is so much more than EVERGREENGOTS. We work hard, but we are so much more than what we do. We love just hanging out with each other and with all our friends and family. We sure are a motley bunch. He is into everything. He is very artistic – you might have seen some of his amazing watercolors… He has his artwork on regular display all over the place. He is also crazy about animals... and sports, but not because he is competitive... but just for the fun of the game.

Of all things, music is his passion - any kind, rock, hip-hop, classical, even country. He can play more instruments than anyone else I know. Strings are his thing, so much so that sometimes he calls me The Pitch-Pipe – but that’s our little secret. He never misses church - whether there are two or two thousand people gathered together.

I can feel my jaw joints loosening but I pay no attention to it. I know nothing of the life he is describing and feel almost spellbound as he continues,

I like to take naps with my dog on the leather couch in our study on my day off, but he's never been much into naps.I think he just loves to sit and watch us. He gets this look in his eyes...

Father loves to feed people and everyone in our family LOVES to eat. Every time we are together, there is food – LOTS of it, from every imaginable cuisine of the world… plus the wine… Aaah... I can tell you story after story about our wine, but you really need to taste it - just one sip... But...

I can feel cascading waterfall of saliva flowing out of the corner of my sagging mouth.

I.. I...I would LOVE to meet your d-d-dad some time,
I interrupt, suddenly stuttering while I wipe my face with the back of my hand.

You will one day. Everyone who knows my dad says I am his spitting image. You know me, you pretty much know my dad. That’s probably as much or more than you can handle for right now.

I can’t help but agree. Knowing him has at times felt much more than I could handle. But, I am still here. And loving it. And dreading it. All at the same time.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Spiritual Formation 101 – How Can Something So Good Turn Out To Be So Bad?

I stand there looking at him as if for the first time. I wonder how in the world did I find myself in this place. What started as seemingly innocuous decision to participate with millions of others in Lental fast by abstaining from whining, which I really believed was better suited for my children then me, snowballed into this colossal mess where my yard looks like a rabid squirrel habitat, our property is exuding manure smell in the 10 mile radius, and I am faced with a guy who doesn’t even apologize for calling me independent (as if there is something wrong with it), opinionated, controlling, disrespectful, perpetually whining workaholic. What is he thinking?!!! How’s this going to look on my performance review?!!! And as if that is not enough, he promises me an eternal future in Sleepy Meadows retirement home, watching the clock and looking forward to the highlight of my day, the next game of dominos. I am just thrilled to death.

And yet, somehow I am having more fun than I ever have had in my entire lifetime just hanging out with him. And I am learning so much, and despite being so blunt, there is no doubt in my mind that he accepts me as I am and really cares, and my yard is growing something really green for the first time since we moved into our house. And he is so stinkin’ joyful, and hopeful, and at home in his own skin, unencumbered with all the crap I am dealing with, as if he, or what he would say, his dad, has it all under control, and it's going to be alright without sugarcoating the hard stuff. As if the worst news are actually the best news.

I wonder if somehow, somewhere some intergalactic communication wires got crossed and I need to find a line-repairman or an interpreter, or both?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spiritual Formation 101 – Who Knew that Resting Could Be This Difficult

Sir, I think this is going to be a lot harder than it looks… How is it possible that something I intend to be so good, turns out to be so bad?!! This is going to be really hard. It's like turning my whole world upside down

I think you are right about that. Except, maybe, about the upside down, part... it's more like, right-side up.
I look at him petrified of the fact that he actually agrees with me. Seeing my ashen face, he adds,

No worries – I got you covered. Remember, all-inclusive, no termination contract?

I get that now. But, what kind of loser needs a life coach to learn to rest?!!

Is that a rhetorical question?
I realize that he laughs a lot.

How did you learn to rest?

I told you, I learned it from my dad. And, to be honest with you, that’s all I care about – what my dad thinks. Some people get all tangled up in what others think, others are all in knots about what they think and how to ensure that everyone else around them thinks in exactly the same way. It's amazing the amount of energy that takes - you could power the entire international space program with it. Plus, it only muddles up the real issue. So, I don't care much for either. But, if dad says, Go!, I go. If dad tells me to sit, I sit. If dad says there is an emergency, I drop everything and I am on it. It’s not a rocket science.

How do you guys keep in touch?

Got an always open direct line. Unlimited calling plan – calls, texts and data. No dropped calls. We love our provider - better than Verizon. The best thing of all, I can always add another line for free, since it's a family package

I know I told you this already, but I never heard of anybody having that kind of relationship with their dad.

I know I told you this already, but maybe that’s your problem?

Hmmm… I’ll have to think about that… It’s just that I am so stinky independent… and opinionated.

As I said…

Alright, I got it.

So, why is your dad so stuck up on this rest business?

Do you mind rephrasing that question – I don’t really appreciate when people use that tone when they talk about my dad, especially since he is the only person I know who is not stuck up on anything.

Sorry… it’s just this habit that I’ve developed…I mean no harm…

I know. It’s O.K. It’s hard to show respect to somebody you don’t really know.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spiritual Formation 101 – The Hard Work of Resting

Except that I might not live long enough to see this LIFE bursting all around,
I mutter to myself, but say out loud,

So, what do we do now?

We rest. And wait. And watch. Rest some more.
I roll my eyes as I visualize the rest of my for-e-ver spent in a Sleepy Medow retirement home, resting, waiting, watching the clock to see how much longer before the next domino game…

I am not a rester, sir. I am a DOER!

I know that… that’s why I am here… to teach you to rest, relax, chill out, loosen up...

Last time I rested was when I broke my leg in fifth grade…

If that’s what it takes… I detect mischief in his voice and take one step back. He laughs, picking up on my precautionary motion.

I am not going to do it unless absolutely necessary.

I look at him unsure whether he is serious or just messing with me.

I've never met anybody so serious about this resting business.

Yep, I learned that from my dad. It’s a very high value to him.

So, what’s so important about being a couch potato?
He again shakes his head in that now familiar even-though-she-gives-every-evidence-about-being-a-hopeless-case-I-know-she-is-not way.

It’s not about being a couch potato, or a slug, or a lazy bum, or whatever else you might label it… Rest is so much more than absence of activity, especially physical activity. You can sit on your bottom all day long and have no rest in your mind and no rest for your soul…

O, I know exactly what you mean!

That’s the rest I am talking about… The rest that fills your mind, and heart, and soul.. and refreshes your body.

Oh, sir – I want that rest!

Alright. But first you have to resign from your job of running this universe, including the quantum level micromanagement position executed on your children, husband, relatives, neighbors, friends and unsuspecting Wal-Mart shoppers. God doesn’t really need your help. He got it covered.

I never saw it as... as playing god-in-chief… I was… I am just trying to help…

Monday, March 19, 2012

Spiritual Formation 101 – I Want Patience and I Want It RIGHT NOW!!!

I roll out of the truck hitting the pavement like a cannon ball. In the palm of his hand there are several individually labeled small plastic bags, each one containing seeds of a different kind.

You gotta be kidding me…
I groan, … This is going to take FOR-E-VER! Why can’t we just go to Home Depot and get some of their ready-to-go, instantly blooming perennials…? , but he doesn’t seem to hear any of it, lost in a world all of his own.

He picks up a seed and looks at me,

You want a miracle…? Here’s a miracle, right in front of your nose.

It’s just a seed…

Yes, that’s what you see… but inside this seed… hidden… inside this tiny, lonely, easily ignored and trampled upon, seemingly insignificant seed, there is packed away an entire universe bursting with life, and energy, fruits and flowers and more seeds… ready to explode, creating more universes all around ...

For a few moments I forget to breathe, just listening to him, feeling I was awarded a front row seat featuring the Creation of the Universe…

But, before any of that can happen, he pauses as if remembering something, the little seed must fall into the ground… and die.

I gasp, suddenly transported back to reality.

Yep, he sighs simply, no other way. Sometimes I wish there were…
but, from the way he sounds, I wonder if he might be talking about something else other than zucchini and tomatoes.

Unless the little seed is willing to lay down in the ground and die...
He suddenly interrupts himself, and motions with his hand,

Let’s get to work…
I follow him slowly in a funeral procession for the bunch of little seeds. He turns my vegetable garden into a small burial plot for broccoli, squash, basil and cilantro and proceeds with the flowers… My face is so long it drags along the grass as I drag my feet behind. We make small signs and put them next to the neatly sown rows. For some reason, I feel like crying. How can something that's supposed to be happy and festive turn into something so depressing and sad?!!!

What’s up?
He lifts his head and looks at my morose body parts sprawled all across the lawn. I am a dirge incarnate. He shakes his head and bursts into laughter,

Cheer up, you silly goose… this is not about death… at least not all about death… This is about LIFE, real life… this death is just a passage into life … that is Life indeed.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Spiritual Formation 101 – The National Planting Day

I am so taken aback by his statement about insipid gardening that the next few days I just follow him around without asking any questions. We pick up broken branches, pull a weed here and a stray crocus there, he replaces the rotten wood and fixes the sagging backyard fence.

We always take a lunch break – after my seven-year long manure fast I find all my taste buds are wide awake and eager to celebrate food in all its flavors, textures and delightful varieties. He asks me to teach him some Serbian phrases, so I make him conjugate verb ishchachkati person, gender, number and tense and threaten to make him go through all seven declensions of the word komarac – singular and plural. We laugh together as he butchers the grammar and pronunciation of my mother tongue. He fails to convince me of the value of country music and we talk politics for hours without getting mad at each other. It feels as if my life has entered some kind of a time warp and I’m shocked to discover that I actually love it. I am getting used to his pace – he is always working, and yet never rushing and somehow always resting. Even though he doesn’t wear a watch, he just knows the right time… for everything. At first it’s really hard to wake up each morning not knowing every dot, ampersand and underscore of my day. But I am learning to wait on his cue. Sometimes they are as subtle as the truckload of manure dumped on my driveway. Other times it’s as loud as the footsteps on the St. Augustine grass.

One day he taps on the window and announces,

National Planting Day!
I jump out of bed like a firecracker, decide I don’t need coffee and bolt out of the front door. This is the day I’ve been waiting for! In my book, the sole purpose of gardening is summarized in one word – planting. I hop onto the passenger seat of his white truck and wait for him to fire up the engine. Field-trip to my favorite place on earth – Home Depot!

What are you doing there? He asks, and clarifies it with another question,

Where do you think you are going? I look at him through the rolled-down window, thoroughly confused.

What do you mean, ‘where do you think you are going’? You said it’s the National Planting Day…


Well, we need things to plant.
I am getting a little impatient. When I want to plant something, I go to the place where miracles happen every day… our neighborhood Home Depot! He shakes his head and if I didn’t know him, I would think he thinks I am hopeless.

We don’t need to go to Home Depot. We already have everything we need to make your garden a place ‘where miracles happen every day’ – I can’t tell whether he is mocking me or not - right here. With that, he taps his denim shirt pocket.

I squint, still firmly planted in the passenger seat of his white truck, half-expecting to see the blooming perennials in his front pocket.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Spiritual Formation 101 – Organic Gardening, Organic Worship

I feel like I will be shoveling manure for the rest of my life. The pile does seem to grow smaller and I wonder whether it’s all a matter of perspective. One day I hear a sound of shovel scraping against the concrete and it’s the most exquisite Chopin to my ears. After spending eternity with my nose in the manure, I look up and the mountain is - gone! All that is left is a few scraps of dirt that we hose down, leaving the driveway sparkly clean. I can hardly believe my eyes. I look at the space gardener and he smiles back at me. I am sore all over and so relieved, but I have to clarify the issue, for I never ever want to deal with this mountain again.

Next time you want to provide some food for my garden, would you mind finding some less olfactory offensive alternative?

Maybe next time you plant the tomatoes, they might actually surprise you and smell and taste like the tomatoes are supposed to. Last time they were so insipid even the pinworms refused to eat them.
I vividly remembered the deep sense of humiliation at the sight of my bloated roma tomatoes and even the bugs, not to mention my own family, turning their connoisseur noses on them.

Gardening can be a rather messy business at times.
He continues softly. It’s not for mysophobiacs. By disinfecting, sanitizing, deodorizing life silly you scrub the life out of it. Your nose is given you for a reason, as well as your taste buds. You should use them to distinguish between what tastes good and what doesn’t. To enjoy, delight in and celebrate the amazing gastronomic and olfactory variety, as well as eliminate, spit out or refuse what can make you sick. Keep everything comfortable and - nice - He paused at the last word - all the time, at all cost, and your life turns into a bland concoction of tasteless veggies where you can’t differentiate a tomato from a squash, cilantro from St. Augustine grass. What comes out of your anesthetized garden – devoid of manure or anything else equally ‘offensive’ - becomes as insipid as your worship on Sunday morning... or the rest of the week, for that matter.

I don't want to sound stupid, but what I think I heard him say throws me off balance completely. I never thought that you could put growing tomatoes, a pile of manure and worshiping God in the same paragraph… much less the same sentence.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spiritual Formation 101 – When Life Delivers a Truckload of Manure on Your Driveway

It takes him only about thirty-two seconds to unload the truck onto my driveway. We spend the next seven and a half years (or so it feels) shoveling it up. I am too mad to speak, so we spend the rest of the day shoveling in silence. I take three consecutive showers that night, rubbing the epidermis off my body in futile attempt to remove the stench. I smother myself with Channel 5 perfumed body lotion trying to cover it up and collapse in bed, too tired to read. My husband grabs his pillow and blanket and torpedoes out of the bedroom, choosing to sleep on the couch in the library. I don’t blame him. I would do the same thing if I had a skunk sleeping in the same bed. He swears it’s the perfume that bothers him more than the manure.

Even though we peck at the mountain all next day, we hardly put a dent in it. The space gardener stops by Subway and brings pastrami and pepper-jack cheese on Italian Parmesan for lunch, but my appetite is gone. I shake my head, No, to a piece of key lime pie and a strawberry cheesecake the following day. I can tell by his look that he is very concerned. Still, I don’t understand how he can eat leaning against the side of a cow-dung mountain.

I try to pawn out some of the manure to the neighbors, but they tell me they have enough crap of their own to deal with and politely refuse. After the sunset, I throw several shovelfuls across the backyard fence, but a little later hear the neighbor yelling at his dog for rolling in it.

Every square inch of our entire front and back yard is covered out evenly with a foot and a half of cow manure. I eat, sleep, dream and wear the cow manure. Everywhere I turn, that’s all I see.

The sheer energy required for shoveling takes most of the feistiness out of me. Even though I can’t help but resent the one who designed this truck delivery, I also appreciate the fact that he is right there with me, day in, day out, shovel in hand. When it starts raining, we are both drenched, both knee-deep in the river of doo. I know he must be tired since he always works at least twice as hard as I do and finishes up all the cleanup at the end of the day. His hands, in addition to having ugly scars that seem to have flared up, are now developing some nasty blisters, despite the gloves we both wear. One day it crosses my mind that he doesn’t have to be here – it’s my driveway, after all, and yet, he never fails to show up. I wonder why?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Spiritual Formation 101 – Some People Learn From the Manual, Some People Don’t

With the egg still dripping down my face, I see the white truck roll around the corner, with a large trailer hauling a medium-size mountain behind. Seconds later the overpowering smell catches up and settles over the entire residential district.

You are late!
I bark at the space cowboy, who gives me a quizzical look, scanning the dogs, my dripping face, and Bob holding the home-made pie all in one glance. I take the pie from Bob’s hands, mumble an apologetic ‘thank you’ and watch him walk back to his house.

What just happened?

I try to describe my morning and find the words pathetically deficient. Eventually, he is able to piece together the story and bursts into laughter.

So, you think that’s funny…I growl.

Some people just have to learn the hard way… you could have spared yourself some embarrassment and grief if you’d read the manual…

The manual? The manual talks about the microscopes and neighbor’s mutant weeds?
He nods a silent ‘yep’. Now I am positively rabid.

Why didn’t you tell me?!!?

Would it make any difference if I had? I pause.

Probably not… I guess you are right, some people just have to learn their lessons the hard way….
I feel a bit tired of learning everything the hard way. If there is an easier way to learn, I am in the game. A huge sigh escapes me as I ask,

What else does your manual say?

Well, if you really want to know, you’ll just have to find out for yourself. Right now we have a work cut out for us…
He points to the reeking mountain inside the trailer, grabs a couple of shovels and hands me one.

What on God’s good earth is that smell??

Cow manure. Premium grade. I got a great deal on it and since your yard hasn’t eaten anything in years, thought you could use a little extra… you might want to put some rubber boots on before we start shoveling…

I look at the mountain of cow dung towering over our house and know that in an instant I have become the one neighbor in our subdivision everyone loves to hate.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Spiritual Formation 101 – MYO BeesWax

Since it’s really hard for me to love what I can’t see, as soon as my kids trot off to school the next morning, I sneak into my son’s bedroom and grab an old microscope off a dusty bookshelf, sagging under the weight of cracked, dismembered and beheaded kindergarten art projects.

He really needs to clean out his room
, I grumble (which, of course, is different from whining and complaining when used by a mother talking about her own children), wondering where in the world did he pick up his housekeeping habits, and step outside into the blazing sun.

With all the weeds popping up left and right, focusing on anything desirable growing in my yard is next to impossible. I swing the microscope around and am blinded by the sprawling emerald-green of the thick lush lawn of the honorary lifetime member of Better Homes and Gardens Yard of the Month club – AKA my next-door neighbor Bob. The sight generates waves of nausea interspersed with a desire to leave this world and attend to the greener pastures thereafter. With the microscope still attached to my eyeball, amidst the aforementioned sprawling green suddenly, Ka-booom! I spot an enormous mutant weed – and flowering weed at that! I am horrified and strangely pleased at the same time.

Hah! I knew it! I knew there were weeds in his yard!

I drop down on all fours and start inspecting his turf. Sure enough, there are about eleven superhumongousy enormous mutant weeds – located mostly next to my property line - and the total of three about to bloom and spread their nasty seeds all throughout the neighborhood.

I must not allow this!
My noble sense of neighborly duty interspersed with an irrepressible urge to point all this out sweeps over me. I consider making large signs with pointing arrows and posting them next to his driveway. While still preoccupied with both inspecting his yard and crafting the best course of action to eliminate the threat of weed contamination it represents to our neighborhood, I feel something wet and slippery all over my face.

Whatcha doing here, neighbor? Bob tilts his head curiously examining a strange sight of a middle-aged woman with her butt sticking up in the air, standing on all fours holding a microscope attached to her eyeball in the middle of his front yard, being licked to death by his equally curious dogs. I clear my throat with a nervous cough as I straighten out.

Well, Bob… it is my neighborly duty to inform you that I found some weeds… eleven weeds to be more precise… growing in your yard. And three of them…

Before I could continue, the look on Bob’s face tells me that he might have something to say.

I appreciate yer attention to details… but don’t ya’ have ‘nough stuff to do in yer own yard before you bother inspecting my grass, with amicroscope, and count my weeds?!!! Then he adds,

By the way, my puppies were sick and I was a nervous wreck all day yesterday, so I baked a dozen chocolate cream pies. Would you like one?

That day, my great neighbor Bob taught me that minding my own business is lesson number one in all yard-work.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Spiritual Formation 101 – Love and Hate, Truth and Pain

I feel tectonic plates shifting under my toes so I do what I do best when I sense tectonic plates shifting under my toes. I change the subject.

How do you know the difference?

The difference? Between true love and ‘looooove’?

Nooo! I laugh at the way he says loooove. I mean how do you know which weeds to pull and which to leave in the ground? Yesterday you told me to leave the weeds alone. Today I caught you red-handed pulling weeds in my yard. What am I supposed to do – pull them or leave them? Is there a manual I can read?

I heard you don’t read manuals. And I know that following instructions is not your strong suit. That’ why I came. Your very own personal manual.

You are kind of hard to read… and follow.

Only if you already made up your mind what you want and don’t want to do.

Guilty as charged. Call me 'Opinionated'. Anyway… we were talking…

Your favorite subject – weeds.

Help me out here.

You need to love growing plants more than you hate weeds.

Hmmm… that sounds vaguely familiar… once I heard somebody say that we need to love the truth more than we fear pain.

Same difference.

Same difference.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Spiritiual Formation 101 Family Business

The next morning I wake up and something tells me it’s almost noon. I jump out of bed – I don’t even need my coffee - and open the blinds. The sheer volume of photonic activity causes fireworks to explode inside my brain sending shock-waves throughout my body. When all the noise subsides, a thought finally crosses the threshold of my consciousness,

There was no tap on my window this morning,
immediately followed by a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I remember the tiff the space gardener and I had yesterday and I know he’d left. Never to return again. Despite the fact that he called me Opinionated and Obsessive Compulsive Weed Exterminator; despite his unorthodox approach to gardening; despite the ugly scars on his hands that make me feel so uncomfortable (why can’t he just have a plastic surgery or something?), I can’t bear a thought of never seeing him again. All the motivation to do anything evaporates before my eyes, except perhaps a desire to go back to bed and sleep through the rest of the week… or a month… or .

Then I hear a soft rustling in the bushes in the front. I look out of the window and there he is! I am so relieved to see him I want to hug him and punch him at the same time. I linger undecided as I watch him quietly behind the window. He walks slowly around the yard bending here and there, picking up a dead branch, pulling out a weed. He pauses frequently, looking, listening. He swings around the house and enters the back yard. He makes his way towards the far corner and crosses over into the garden.

You don’t need to go back there!
I shout, mortified. Several years ago I saw a snake’s nest there and I haven’t gone back there since that happened…

Ah, you are up!
He waves at me. I thought you might sleep through this entire glorious day.

Why didn’t you wake me up?!

I thought you needed the rest.

Well, I guess I did. The early afternoon sun seems to agree with him. I hesitate for a moment, then add … I thought you’d left… never to return again. … You scared me.

I thought we had an all-inclusive no-end contract deal,
he winked. I guess you are stuck with me. … And I with you.

I close my eyes and sense a soft rumble from deep down bubbling up… It smells like rain and grass and jasmine… and …a ham sandwich!

Hey, I stopped by Subway on the way here… I am kind of hungry. It’s already after noon. Wan’na eat?

We sit down on the grass under the tree and unwrap the sandwiches.

Have you ever thought of starting your own business?
I ask between the bites. He looks at me like I have just landed from a different planet.

Why would I ever want to do that?

Spread your wings. Branch out. You are good at what you do. I see there is a method to your madness. You could become successful. Independent.

I like working with my dad. Everything I know, I learned from him.

Now, see… that’s weird. It’s like being ‘daddy’s boy’.

Something wrong with that?

No woman is going to want to marry you.

I already have a fiance.

You do?!!! I try to hide my shock. Against my will, my eyes are drawn to his hands. I wonder what kind of woman is willing to put up with that sight. Maybe she is blind.

I guess there is a price to love,…
I mutter under my breath.

Yes. There is. There is always a price to true love.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Spiritiual Formation 101 Sir, We Got a Problem

I am amazed that the tiny trickle from the old garden hose can affect so much change in our landscape in such a short time. Having suffered through years of severe drought, I thought that even the Niagara falls wouldn’t be sufficient to quench the thirst of my parched lawn. But, today I begin to notice a discernible difference, for there are little soft tufts of genuine green popping up throughout our yard. The sight makes me more ecstatic than winning a Better Homes and Gardens Yard of the Month award.

I am a real gardener now!
I am so absolutely beside myself that I can’t wait to get on line and share my most recent success with all my Facebook friends. I take carefully framed pictures of my yard and upload them as evidence. While standing precariously on my head, looking for the best angle to capture my astonishing feat without disclosing too much of the rest of the story I see something that threatens to pop my bubble.

Sir, we GOT a PROBLEM!
I announce in an expert voice. Having just grown my very first green thing I officially crossed over into the murky waters of the certified know-it-alls.

We do? He tilts his head sideways, trying to look me in the eye as I am still in my awkwardly contorted position holding the camera for that just-perfect shot.

Yes! Can’t you see this?? THIS?
I point at the green stalk growing right out of my nostril. This, Sir, is a WEED! Genus -Digitaria Haller. Family Poaceae. Order Cyperales. That water of yours presumably can't tell the difference between a weed and a plant!

I see…
He doesn’t seem impressed.

So, what are you going to do about it?
I demand, finally straightening out, cracking the stiffness out of my neck.

What do you suggest that we do? He answers the question with the question. I hate when he does that.

It’s a no-brainer. We deal with it as we should with all the weeds. We kill, destroy, uproot, annihilate… There is a whole big-buck industry devoted to...

Leave it alone.

Excuse me?

I said, Leave it alone.

I heard what you said. Remember, you just cleaned my ears.

I just started cleaning your ears. You have a long way to go…

What kind of gardener are you?!! How can you put up with all these weeds?!!

I thought you’d never ask. Well, let me explain to you if you care to hear it
…He says the word the way you would hit a nail on the head. If you pulled the weeds right now, you would uproot the good grass along with it. You must leave it alone. Your problem is not this poor weed. Your problem is that you have reduced the art and the mystery of gardening into an obsessive-compulsive weed elimination. There is more to gardening than having a weed-free lawn. Gardening is about entering this amazing world you didn’t create with your mouth shut and your shoes off your feet. It’s about listening and surrender and yielding of control rather than imposing your puny tyrant will.... it’s about rhythms and seasons and climate and dirt…And most of all, it’s about friendship…

My jaw, having been almost restored to full health is at a danger of hitting the pavement again. I never heard him say so much in such a short time. I've never ever heard anybody fight with such intensity and passion and grace for the life of a... weed! Part of me wants to take notes of every word coming out of his mouth. The other part wants to sit down and soak it all in by osmosis. I want to hear more about this outer space gardening even though I understand only about every tenth word he utters.

I rub my jaw gently, thinking I might need braces.

There isn’t a tiniest doubt in my mind that on the planet where he came from, they do gardening a little different than over here. A lot different.

And I am not quite sure anymore whether I have a stomach for it.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Whining Fast 101 – Auditory Detox

For the next couple of weeks I am awakened at the crack of dawn by a gentle tap on my window. Some mornings I find myself awake before the tap comes and actually wait for it. Even look forward to it. Others I bumble into the morning unprepared, my head looking like a heron’s nest, my eyes squinting unaccustomed to so much light so soon in the day.

The space gardener and I have a little routine going. He always waits for me to get my second cup of coffee. Then, I grab the hose, and he opens the valve. After that we listen.

As my ears go through an auditory detox, I slowly begin to hear things I never heard before. Even I know the difference between an airplane above and four-wheel drive below. I can tell apart a riding mower from a weed-whacker. But rustling of a lizard’s feet in the dead leaves?!! The scampering of squirrels little claws as they race each other up a trunk of our huge oak? A woodpecker in our neighbor’s backyard tree?! There IS a woodpecker living in my neighbor’s back yard!

Some mornings I feel like I walk in on a congress debate going on in the branches of our maple. Others it’s so quiet I can hear my own thoughts. I swiftly avoid those and eavesdrop on a good-natured marital banter between Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal. Then the neighbor’s lawnmower drowns all other sounds and we shut off the water, put away the hose and are done for the day.

I feel like somebody took a plunger unplugged and deep-cleaned my ears and I can hear, really hear for the first time in my life.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Whining Fast 101 – D day

The next morning I wake up with a massive headache. I remember I have a crack-of-dawn date with a crazy gardener from outer space who expects me to baby-sit the garden hose for five hours. I wish somebody would turn off the lights and I can go back to sleep and wake up in a perfect world where there are no weeds and no need for crazy gardeners from outer space. There is something else I wish I could eliminate from this world but I can’t remember right now. So, I roll out of bed like a dead log, except for groaning. I fix myself an extra strong cup of coffee and take it intravenously.

How did I get myself into this pickle? How did it all start?

Suddenly, with intense clarity I remember that somebody suggested a whining fast. The whining fast that I didn’t think I needed but sure would have appreciated if my kids adhered to. I remember the weeds, the prayer, the white truck, and the guy who wrestled with the combine… What started as a whining fast has turned into a whining fest, for now I see clearly that in the past 24 hours I’ve done nothing but whine and complain! Is that just a coincidence?

Have you had your second cup yet?
A familiar voice jerks me out of my ruminations.

How do you know about the second cup?!!

It’s public record, silly… C’mon. just grab it and bring it with you. You can finish it while we are watering…

You know…
I start, I think there was a big mistake. I appreciate your offer, you showing up here at crack of dawn… but I think you got yourself a wrong person. I don’t have just a brown thumb. Every finger and every toe and every bone in my body is brown. I have killed, mutilated, and murdered every green thing that ever dares putting its root down within our property lines. Get it? It’s hopeless. Leave while there is still time…

He hands me the hose, apparently quite deaf, in addition to being crazy.

I’ll turn on the water… He walks behind the fence and opens the valve. The hose coughs and sputters for a few seconds and then the water begins gushing out.

I stand with the garden hose in one hand and coffee cup in the other.

How in the world can this do any good…?

If you would be a little less opinionated, we might actually get somewhere…

He called me, Opinionated! I find that very offensive.

True or false?

Well… I admit… I can be… sometimes… Alright, … most of the time. But, still…

Now we are getting somewhere.
He chuckles and takes a deep breath. Without realizing, I do the same.

I love mornings.

What’s there to love?

He closes his eyes. I want to close my eyes, but I am afraid I am not coordinated enough to juggle a hose in one hand and a coffee mug in the other with my eyes shut.

You hear it?

I hear nothing, other than the shhhhh of the water…

Just listen…

It’s very quiet.
I finally say. It’s actually… nice.

We stand there a while. No words between us. Just the stillness of the early morning.

This feels… good. I could stand here forever.
I mutter, feeling mildly intoxicated by all the fresh air. I hear the shuffling of his feet in the grass.

We are done for today,
He says and shuts off the water.

Done?!! Already?!!!
I gasp. I thought…

I’ll be back tomorrow, Miss Opinionated.
I open my mouth in protest but he has already disappeared.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Whining Fast 101 – No Better Time than … Next Week

When do we start? I ask, doing a quick mental scan of my schedule. Perhaps tomorrow? Or maybe next week – that’s definitely better, My schedule is pretty full….

Today… we start today… in fact, right now.
He answers matter-of-factly and walks toward the trailer.

Right now?!!! But… but…
I stammer suddenly at a loss of all the brilliant reasons why this is not a good time. I can’t…

I thought we had a deal.

We DO. But, right now? This is not the most convenient time…

Who said anything about convenience?
He reaches into the trailer, grabs a small toolbox and looks at me. I look at the box. Then I look at the trailer with all the cool apps and widgets and power tools. Then I look at him.

I thought you were going to use some of your power tools…? Isn’t that what the pros do?

Nah... I use those only when absolutely necessary. They raise a lot of dust and make way too much noise. I prefer working in the quiet.

He sets the toolbox on the driveway and flips the lid open. A couple of small trowels, more pruning shears than I think necessary, a stainless steel double-edged kitchen knife which opens up a whole new can of big, fat wormy questions, and a pair of gloves.

Gloves? With the hands like yours I didn’t think you use gloves.

Sometimes they come in handy.

Speaking of hands… if I dare to ask… What happened to your hands? Did you have a wrestling match with a combine and lost…?

Sort of…though, that’s just a part of the story. One day you’ll be able hear the rest. But now, we have another business to attend… Shall we…?

If you insist…
I sigh for I would much rather listen to a good story.

I think we should start with repairing the sprinkling system. I keep running over the heads with the lawnmower…my husband can’t keep up with the repairs. For every one he fixes I manage to break two. And, as you know, it’s impossible to have a lawn without a sprinkling system…

It is?!! I didn’t realize that. Don’t you have a garden hose?

Of course we do. At least four.. maybe six.

One is usually enough.

For what?!!

For watering the garden.

And who is supposed to stand there with the garden hose and water the garden every day?!!!

Who do YOU think?

Certainly not me!

It’s YOUR yard.

You are crazy! I don’t have that kind of time on my hands!

We always have time for what we love… In fact, this is my prescription for you for the next several weeks. Do not use sprinkling system. Just the garden hose. Every morning… or evening.
He added, If you prefer. I’ll be here with you.

Now I know for sure that you have landed here from a different planet! For no person on this planet has this kind of time to waste on such frivolous activities.
I fume under my breath.

It’s not going to be wasted. He says. I promise.

There will never be a better time than now.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Whining Fast 101 – Small Talk

Sooo, how long have you been in this business? I ask, feeling a bit strange, fearing if I don’t keep him occupied, he might change his mind and go away.

Awhile…it’s a family business.

So, you are the owner? I raise my eyebrow, quite impressed.

The owner’s son.

Same difference.

Yep… same difference. I would love to introduce you to my dad some time. He is pretty awesome.

Hearing him talk about his dad in such a way makes me realize I miss my dad. I swallow hard.

I miss my dad.
I say, tearing up. You know, I am not from here. When I left home, I left everything and everyone behind.

I know… I am not from here either.
We stand silent for a while. I feel the breeze cooling my face. Sensing the ground shifting under my feet, I change the subject again,

You guys must be doing pretty well to be able to afford this kind of special. Do you run it often?

All the time. We enjoy giving gifts.

Wow! People must be all over you…

Actually, you would be surprised. Most people seem to prefer earning their own way… paying their dues...

It IS weird being on the receiving end of such an extravagant gift… Part of me feels that now I am indebted to you… and nobody likes to be a debtor.

A simple thank-you would suffice.

Thank you.

You are welcome. Our pleasure.