Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Biggest Miracle

By the way he looks at me, I can tell that his mind-reading abilities are still clearly at work. I slowly wipe the mayo-mustard drip from the corner of my mouth, the last bite of the sandwich keeping my taste-buds exploding in yummy fireworks.

I know what's coming, so I brace myself for the impact.  The Place Where Miracles Happen Every Day clearly has toxic effect on me, but I am not sure whether this is their or my problem! So, I expect him to deliver a painfully obvious sermon about the pitfalls of unrealistic expectations or hidden hazards of comparisons to our soul's health and well-being. For some reason, however, he refuses to walk through that door. He turns his gaze away and shakes off the crumbs. Maybe the 'painfully obvious' part is good enough for him. I don't know whether I am more relieved or confused - he is becoming almost predictable about being utterly unpredictable in his dealings with me.

I want to show you something. He stands up and heads towards the back yard.

As soon as we are out, I realize that the vegetable garden plot - the burial ground for the coriander, broccoli and zucchini seeds; the invisible universe lying dormant until the seed is willing to tumble into the dirt and... die -  has completely fallen off my radar screen!  He stops by the concrete edging, waiting to see my reaction.

I look down, and in the soft brown mixture of compost and dirt, I am greeted by the tiny rows of bright green, the tender tufts of new life springing up - out of nothing, out of darkness, out of... death...?!! They look desperately fragile, and beautiful, and delightfully carefree, dancing in the gentle wind...   Their roots still hidden deep in the womb of gloom... but their miniature heads are lifted up ...

like hope that's born out of hopelessness;

like love birthed from rejection and loneliness;

like faith that grows out of the silence of the dark night of the soul.

The...the..they... they are GORGEOUS! I LOVE them! I stutter, laughing and crying at the same time, the emotion of the moment taking me completely by surprise.  I had no idea I could do that! ... I pause, remembering some of the more embarrassing details of the National Planting Day, and correct myself sheepishly. Not that I can take any credit for it... for it all happened much more despite and not because of me...

Congratulations! He laughs, You are now ready to become a gardener in training! See, I told you that we could make your own back yard the place where miracles happen every day. ... But the biggest miracle is not this... He points at the slender stalks still dancing in the breeze. The biggest miracle of all is the one that happens on the inside...  He thumps his chest with the tips of his fingers.  Inside your own heart. 

I'll give you a new heart.  I'll put a new spirit in you.  I'll cut out your stone heart and replace it with the heart of flesh and blood.  Then you'll obey my statues and be careful to obey my commands. You'll be My people. I'll be your God. Ezekiel 11:18,19

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Sacred Art of Sandwich Making and Sandwich Eating

I am uncharacteristically quiet on the ride back home. He makes an unexpected stop at Publix and gets the sandwich makings.

I thought we were stopping by Subway, I comment half-heartedly. It's much easier and faster... perhaps even cheaper...

Change of plans. He winks with a grin. We'll enjoy this more.

Back at home, I watch him as he carefully layers all my favorite lunch meats and Swiss and Pepper-jack cheese inside the open sourdough hoagie. He slices large rounds of tomatoes and arranges them in overlapping pattern on top of the cheese. Then he shreds the lettuce, cuts up olives and sprinkles them along with extra jalapeno and banana peppers all over on the bread . He smothers everything with garlic-and-herb mayo and spicy brown mustard. By the time he is finished, it's quite a work of art, but that doesn't stop me from salivating small waterfall. The sandwich is so big he can hardly close it. He cuts it with a serrated knife and hands me my half. He prays, but his prayer is simply a continuation of the sandwich-making process, not an interruption to it. This upward-bound conversation feels like an indispensable part of the art of food-making and the art of food-eating. We say, Amen, and dive into the overflowing volcano of yumminess.

Mmmm, I mumble with my mouth full, it actually tastes as good, or maybe even better, than Subway.

I thought you might enjoy it... He looks like he is enjoying watching me enjoy my sandwich as much or more than eating his own. As I was saying, there is a time for Subway, and there is a time for making sandwiches at home

You said that... or something similar about Home Depot.

Mentioning Home Depot reminds me of the surprising revelation, the unintended effect the Place Where Miracles Happen Every Day has on me, the out-of-bounds desires, the discontentment, the sense of paralysis. With some food in my stomach, I am feeling much better, but the lingering question remains.

Is this why you didn't want us to go to Home Depot on National Planting day?

Home Depot At Last!

We pull into the Home Depot parking lot and I jump out of the truck, instantly energized by all the potential this place generates. The crock-pot of my mind and heart starts bubbling up with all sorts of ideas.

And Dreams.

And Visions!

I am getting mildly intoxicated surrounded by smiling experts, exploding annuals and shiny power-tools.  Paint department is by far my greatest weakness. I admit I am a recovering paint junkie and just seeing the rows of cans makes me realize that I absolutely need to re-paint our family room. It's been, what?... more than six months since I last painted it... and it's beginning to look a little drab... There is an irresistable magnetic pull towards the shelves with oops paint.

Of all home improvement projects, painting certainly gives you the biggest bang for your buck. It's probably one of the easiest, fastest jobs, providing instant, dramatic transformation of any room. Who could possibly object to that?!! In addition, there is that wonderful sense of closure, the bragging rights, the electrifying feeling of having accomplished something big which is sorely lacking in just about any other department of my life. Not to mention the oooohs and the aaaaahs of my fawning fans while I bask in the glory of my impeccable sense of aesthetic appeal ...

We didn't come here for paint. The Gardener lands me back on the ground with a thump. You don't NEED to paint.  We need new hinges and some carpenter's glue, that's it. Let's go. The sooner we are done here, the sooner we take care of that door, and then we can enjoy our lunch. 

He walks through the warehouse undistracted by the bathroom remodeling showrooms, the smell of new carpets, and the gorgeous kitchen cabinets... Trailing behind like a puppy jerked by its leash, I realize that all this potential converged in one place is generating inordinate amount of desire as well as discontentment with the things the way they are as opposed to where they should or even could be. The feeling is vaguely familiar, but I have to dig through the passages of memory to discover that most, if not all my past visits to Home Depot have ultimately led to this nagging sense of discontentment. Unfortunately, the fleeting whiff of inspiration invariably dissipates into the thin air on the way home. I am beginning to see that the visits to the land of potential, rather than causing me to take action and make appropriate or needed changes, actually create a sense of temporary paralysis that may take days to overcome and resume with ignoble activities like scrubbing the toilets, or cleaning the piggy's cage, or chopping vegetables for dinner.

I am quite shocked by the revelation.

How is it possible that something that is meant to be so good can have such a toxic effect?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

More than a Gardener

So, you do go to Home Depot after all. I smile feebly. With him nearby, regaining my composure is becoming easier despite the fact that disasters seem to get from bad to worse by the hour. I remember my dismay over his refusal to purchase blooming perennials for National Planting Day and the horror I felt when I understood he fully expected me to grow living things out of dead specks nestled inside the palm of his hand. Now, with the perspective of more recent events, I wonder if there could have been something I'd missed, blinded by my 'instant results' tunnel vision.

Oh, I like Home Depot, he replies as he retrieves his tools from the back of the truck. Then,according to his habit of answering my unspoken questions, he adds:

But, there is a time and a place for seeds, and a time and a place for blooming flowers. ... Or new hinges and sometimes even new doors. It's recognizing that time, knowing the season ... His voice trails off but my heart picks up the rest of the sentence. It's meaning resonates through its every chamber. For I am fully aware this is where I fail most often and most miserably - missing the timing, either rushing ahead or dragging behind, unsure whether I am in season of planting or uprooting, weeding or harvesting ...But how do I learn to discern the right time? How do I know? How does anyone know?

Since I have absolutely no desire to add a trip to the emergency room to my already over-the-top eventful day,we sweep up the broken glass and the splinters, and mop the slippery tiles in the entryway. He grabs some sheets of old plywood and we board up the entrance to keep other potential uninvited visitors out. I am still dumbfounded by the Code Enforcer's completely un-called-for action, but there is nothing I can do about it right now.

Boarded entry behind us, we are on our way to Home Depot. Last time I was in his truck it was on National Planting Day. I feel like so much has happened since then … so much has changed… on the inside… I am rather ashamed remembering what a bratty know-it-all I’ve been and continue to be... And the marvel of his incredible patience and unassuming, matter-of-fact, of-course-I'll-never-leave-you acceptance washes over me again… and again...

Thank you… I mutter. Thank you for everything.

You are welcome. He answers simply.

And now this door! You really didn't need to do that. You are a gardener, not a..., I am rambling trying to be polite, even though I am so relieved he clearly knew what he was doing.

Remember, it’s an all-inclusive deal, hon? He shakes his head, then adds, Plus, I am a carpenter too.

Monday, August 20, 2012

When Real Life Writes an Implausible Story

I stand speechless in the gaping hole where the door used to be, watching the Code Enforcer drive off, leaving me enveloped in the cloud of toxic exhaust fumes billowing out of his silver SUV. In my hand is the violation notice spelling out the terms and the fee. Around my feet there is splintered wood, shards of broken glass and a puddle of water... My clothes are still wet although the dripping has stopped, but I smell no mint, and no lime, nor anything else delicious and refreshing.

This reminds me of what took place in the back yard, just short few minutes ago...Or was it centuries?  Being buried in the sinkhole, the living water, the indescribable shower from the outside and the inside, the joy, the loud banging, the unexpected forced entry of the Code Enforcer, the fine...What was that all about?!!! If somebody was making a movie, or writing a story about this, I would object,

Implausible! Cut it out! Life just doesn't happen at such insane velocity!

I can help you with putting the door back up.  The Gardener's calm voice jerks me out of my paralysis.

I have the tools in the truck, he continues as if blowing the doors off the hinges on people's houses is the most natural, daily occurrence in our suburban neighborhood.  But we may need to run to Home Depot for the replacement of the broken pieces. We could stop by Subway on the way back - it's almost lunch time. 

His unperturbed presence somehow makes the mess, the chaos and the confusion feel almost ... manageable? Less of an insurmountable K2 size mountain and more like a workout in the foothills - a strenuous workout nonetheless, but still a workout. With him, life is not only a wild, unpredictable adventure, but an adventure with a purpose.  Sometimes, it feels like a boot camp, a military training ground where the measure of pain is the measure of strength built and endurance developed.  I am willing to put up with pain when I know it is not meaningless.

Sometimes I wonder if I am the only one on the planet whose life seems to go from one colossal disaster to another? How did I earn such cosmic favor? But, regardless of whether I am the only one or not, I sure am glad I have the Gardener from Outer Space in my life, for without him, I don't even want to think where I would be on a day like this.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

When Code Enforcer Knocks Down Your Front Door

I am absolutely drenched, but there is no time to dry off because the person banging on my front door is now threatening to storm it off its hinges.

Just a moment! I yell out from the top of my lungs, rushing towards the door, leaving a soppy trail behind me throughout the entire house.  I fumble around looking for the key, the visitor's face pasted against the front door window, peering through the shades. The key proved to be quite unnecessary, for with one final blow of his right shoulder, the door gave in and the visitor followed it's splintered path finding himself in our hallway.

How can I help you, sir? is choked up inside my throat.  Having my front door shattered right in front of my eyes, in addition to being wet, winded and rushed are all working mightily together against my honest attempt at kindness, so I blurt out,

What the heck...?!!!  I am sure I present quite a sight to the visitor, who examines me from head to toe.  I am tremendously relieved I am all sparkly clean, but his disapproving scowl indicates he might not agree with me on this assessment.  I am utterly confounded for I don't even know the guy and he obviously has a bone to pick with me, for some brilliant reason known only to him. I wonder what's the emergency that necessitates such entry.  He must be a mind reader for he clears his throat momentarily, sighs deeply as if reminding himself that putting up with the likes of me is part of his penance in life and announces his important mission:

I am a code enforcer for our HOA.  There have been anonymous complaints by our neighbors about some of your activities and I have been commissioned by our board to inquire about these complaints and the effect they have on peace and prosperity of our neighborhood as well as our property values.  

He pauses briefly, sniffing the air. I wonder if he could smell the freshness of mint, and the tangy lime, and that unidentifiable scent still lingering as I continue to drip like a leaky faucet. Then, a faint thought about never-ending manure saga crosses the threshold of my consciousness!

That's what this is all about! I knew I would get in trouble for that damn pile of manure! I shudder at the memory, but so many things have happened since than that that particular stinky mountain has shrunk down to a molehill relative to other mountains dotting my horizon nowadays. But, I have no time for reflection because the Code Enforcer focuses his stare back at me and continues:

In the process I have checked your water meter among other things and have discovered that your usage is in violation of the HOA Declaration of the Covenant, Conditions and Restrictions Article 7 page 49.  The penalty for the violation amounts to $278.43. You have an option of paying in cash or write a check payable to the HOA within 10 business days.  If we have not collected the amount within that period, you will be taken to the small claims court and be liable for additional court and legal charges.  This is our final notice. Have a great day. Good bye.

With this, he spins around on his heel and triumphantly stomps towards his SUV, which is parked in my driveway with the engine running, keeping the A/C on.

Friday, August 17, 2012

It's Bath Time!

The old hollow rubber snake I use to transfer two parts hydrogen and one part of oxygen in a more or less steady flow from the spigot near our house to the various parts of our yard looks like it has sustained some curious transformation in his hand. .. became an extension of his body rather than a separate entity. 'The water spits and splutters at first, but when the flow is established he turns around and points it directly at me. 

Caked in mud and dirt from head to toe, I bounce out of the way.  Last time I was hosed down in this manner was when I was seven years old! But he would have none of it.  So, rather than arguing with him again over thousands of better ways to get cleaned, I choose to yield this time, surrendering to the stream, starting with my face and the rest of my head.

The water feels alive.  The sparkling droplets are infused with energy all their own.  I open my mouth wide and let the water in... It tastes sweet and aromatic like there is mint in it, and a touch of lime, and something else I can't quite identify. I am being scrubbed clean under this living stream - my head, my hair, my entire body, my clothes...from top to bottom, all around, outside-in....

Outside-in...?!!! My eyes pop wide open for I've never experienced the sensation of having a shower on the outside as well as on the inside!  He observes my surprise, clearly enjoying himself.  I can't say I understand what is going on.  All I know is that I want this flow of living water to keep coming in and around and through me forever.  I savor the unfamiliar taste of this new kind of cleanliness and I never want to get dirty again. My fears, my doubts, my unbearable sense of guilt, even my unquestioning loyalty to my way of looking at the world are being rinsed out with this bubbling magic.I look down and around my feet I expect to see ever-growing puddle of mud, but instead I am greeted with a flowing spring of sparkling-crystal and diamonds and emeralds...

I try to say something, to ask him what ... and ... how... and...But the river of unspoken questions is suddenly interrupted by a loud banging on our front door.

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior Titus 3:5,6

Sunday, August 12, 2012

No End Contract

I wouldn't want me back, I muse inside my sinkhole coffin, after all I've done.  Why would he be any different?

At that point I feel a slight movement of the ground which increases in intensity. The earth all around me convulses and heaves like a woman in labor and I wonder if I am on my last journey to the center of the Earth. I can't tell what is up and what is down anymore as I am rocked around and around.  Then I notice specks of light through the cracks. The cracks get bigger as well as the specs, and soon light starts streaming into the darkness that has been enveloping me for so long...

How long?  I have no idea. Time and its measurements - seconds, minutes, days, years, centuries - seem to hang loose on the hinges of something much bigger and more permanent. I am simultaneously both pulled upward and propelled from beneath. It's the weirdest feeling.  Momentarily I find myself face to face with the Gardener who holds my arms at the elbows.

I am so happy to see him, but I can't trust my eyes anymore, especially in this blinding light, after I've been surrounded by darkness for eternity. Despite the desire to hold onto the illusion of his presence, I chose reality instead and close my eyes again. I still feel a firm grip on both my elbows which gives me courage to open my eyes again.  He is still there. Smiling. I am quite overwhelmed and crumple on the grass next to his feet.

I am so, sooo sorry... I thought I would never see you again!

I'd told you it's all-inclusive, no-end contract... He replies calmly.

I am not sure if I really understood what you meant by it.

Of course you didn't. That will take time. You must learn to be patient. The more you know me, the more you'll understand... But right now you look like you need a really good scrub.  With those words he ends our conversation, grabs a garden hose and turns the water on.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Who Switched the Price Tags?

The sinkhole is closing its mouth over me and I am one with the mud which now fills my eyes, my mouth, my ears.  The sinking feeling eventually stops and I wonder if I'd finally reached the bottom. All around me it's dark and very very quiet. I can't hear the tiny hammers anymore.

I am buried alive... I think, but the horrible thought surprisingly awakens neither horror nor panic nor fear. I am more than anything curious about this unfamiliar state of being. There is a vague recollection of more mountains of manure hidden inside revealed through murderous words sputtering like a live volcano. There is a memory of hopelessness that followed, the millions of tiny hammers of guilt pounding the verdict of unforgivable sin... But more than anything else, there is a clear sense that without the Gardener I am nothing, and without him life is not worth living.

I am shocked at the revelation, for I always thought I was something special and my life always had extraordinary value in my own eyes. Even my parents thought I was going to be the first female president of our country, but that dream crumbled like a broken cookie along with the crumbling of the country we used to call our homeland.  Now the rest of me seemed to be experiencing the same destiny.

Apparently at some peculiar cosmic stock market, the price-tag of the shares of my life were switched and it was unclear whether I was the biggest loser or the luckiest fool in the universe.  And, to be honest, I didn't care about the answer. Which was the biggest surprise of all.

How is it possible to turn something so valuable and cherished into something so utterly worthless?!!!  I thought. And consider something... or rather, someone, I used to despise and take for granted, more valuable than my life itself?

 For I knew that more than anything else in the world, I wanted... - I needed - the Gardener back... if he was still willing to take me.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Unforgivable Sin

I lift up my head and for a fraction of a moment I catch a glimpse of his face, awash with unspeakable pain. I blink and look again, and he is back to his usual gentle, kind yet unreadable self. I wonder if the painful expression was real or I just imagined it, projecting my own pain on him.

Of the two of us, I seem to be the one most surprised with the outburst. I had assumed that shoveling manure once for all eliminated the feistiness I had been carrying around with me from the day I was born. A thought crosses my mind that there could be an entire mountain inside my heart, and what I dealt with while shoveling the driveway was just the beginning, just a tiny tip of the iceberg of crud within. Irrepressible queasiness starts building up in my stomach. I don't want to add the vomit to the character assassination, so I stand up, my feet sinking deeper in the dirt. The Webster inside my head contains no words which adequately express the apology this situation demands. I'm sorry, seems woefully insufficient for the unfairness of the verbal assault.

If words were knives, I would be a murderer! And what murderers deserve is...

He mercifully interrupts the agony of my internal dialogue and brings me back to earth, buried knee deep between labels 'broccoli' and 'squash' marking the resting places of the seeds within my vegetable garden plot.

You know, there is a huge difference between calling yourself a gardener and being one. 

He is still seated on the ground, looking straight ahead. His hands are resting on his bent knees, showing dirt-covered flesh through the threadbare denim of his jeans. There is dirt under his fingernails, the blisters old and new, the cuts, the scrapes, the bruises... and the ugly scars... My manicured hands hang limp down my sides.

At this point I am not sure what is worse, calling him a pervert or calling myself a gardener with him sitting right next to me.  The heavy clouds of shame accumulate on the horizon and the sun disappears from the sky. I would give anything to take the words back. But, it's too late now. The large raindrops pound my face like thousands of tiny hammers.

Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! 

They go on and on and I am drowning in the rain of hopelessness as the dirt around my feet turns into muddy sinkhole...I sink deeper and deeper... There is no solid ground under my feet.

I don't... I don't think he could ever forgive me... and the grief over thought of losing him swallows the torrents of humiliation, leaving a gaping hole where I once used to be. I realize that without him, I am nothing.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Growing Pains

He could have given me a lecture on quantum physics with more success of actually getting through. But this... this talk about... life after death?!!! Nonsense! How can something dead be made alive again?!!! 

We sit down on the edge of the garden and I bury my bare feet into the soft, warm, wet dirt.

Why did you do this?  I ask, staring intently at my disappearing toes.  Why wouldn't you let us go to Home Depot and get some already blooming flowers?!! What's so wrong about that???

It sounds like you already have answers to all your  questions, he replies gently.

Of course I don'.... I stop mid-sentence, catching myself before I dug myself deeper. His raised eyebrows reveal more enjoyment in this conversation than I care to acknowledge.

I have no idea how you are doing this, but sometimes I feel like you know my thoughts before even I know them! I feel both angry and disarmed at the same time.  This wasn't the first time I felt utterly unnerved in his presence.  The look in his eyes reveals neither gloating nor a trace of superiority.  I turn back to my buried toes, sinking deeper into the dirt. 

Fine! I continue, surprising myself with a torrent bubbling up from somewhere deep inside.  

If that's what you want, that's what you get. I think you derive some warped sense of pleasure out of inflicting senseless pain and suffering on innocent, unsuspecting victims.   

I keep my eyes glued to my sunken feet, toes squinched tightly. I pause, half expecting a lightening to strike me out of the clear-blue sky, the other half wanting him to defend himself, to bring counterarguments to my honest brutality.  I hear neither thunder and lightening nor a word from him. 

What is so morally superior about subjecting an amateur gardener to the torture of growing vegetables and flowers from  seeds? And what is so miraculous about that? 

Monday, August 06, 2012

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! I don't even hear the whining tone I am so quick to point out whenever I detect it in my children.

Why can’t we just go to Home Depot and get some of their ready-to-go, instantly blooming perennials…?  He doesn't seem to hear neither whining no negotiation, apparently 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.

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...the miracle won't happen. 
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.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

National Planting Day!

Despite myself, I can feel his laid back approach slowly growing on me. But, it's almost like an out-of-body experience, because everything he does, and especially the way he does it is so contrary to my natural inclinations and bent.  I know that the manure mountain has mellowed out a lot of my intensity, but I still think that it is a lot more noble and praise-worthy to change the world out there than change my own back yard. At least, more exciting.

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.

Friday, August 03, 2012

From 60 to 0.06 mph in a split second

I am completely blindsided by his statement about insipid gardening and insipid worship. I never made the connection between the two and now I can't help but wonder what he really meant when he'd offered me that 'all-inclusive' landscaping deal. All I wanted him to do is fix my yard.  In the process, I am finding out that there is more that needs to be fixed than my weed-infested lawn. 

The next few days I just follow him around without asking any questions. While I water the lawn and the garden with the old hose, he picks up broken branches, pulls a weed here and a stray crocus there. One day he replaces the rotten wood and fixes the sagging backyard fence. Another he brings over an ancient but, ah so gorgeous and very well-built rocking bench and sets it among the azalea bushes.  We sit  there in silence, listening to the sounds of life all around us.

We always take a lunch break.  In my former life, I never used to do that since it seemed like such a colossal waste of the prime hour of the day on something so inconsequential as eating food. However, 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 decide to hit him with the hardest and make him conjugate verb ishchachkati person, gender, number and tense. We laugh together as he butchers the grammar and pronunciation of my mother tongue. I threaten to make him go through all seven declensions of the diminutive form of the word komarac – singular and plural if he doesn't improve. We meander through our conversations like we are strolling through the woods - pausing to notice a wild flower on the side of the pathway, or hear the gurgling of a creeks miniature waterfalls.  We don't see eye to eye on many things. I shake my head as he fails to convince me of the value of country music.  But I am surprised that we can 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 learn that I actually like it. By my former supersonic standards, life has slowed down to an unbearable crawl. Surprisingly each day I am discovering more life in and around me than I ever experienced when my speed was breaking the sound barrier. I am also becoming more self-conscious of my noise-making ways that drown out the voice of the wind and the song of the rain. I feel like I have so much to learn...

Each day I am getting more and more 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.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Organic Gardening Organic Worship

I feel like we will be shoveling manure for the rest of my life. The pile does seem to grow smaller each week and I wonder whether it’s all a matter of perspective. One day I hear a sound of our shovels 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. We did it!!  I am sore all over and so relieved, but I have to clarify the issue, for I want to ensure that I never ever have 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 peer at him suspiciously, wondering how in the world he knows about my tomato-growing fiasco.  The deep sense of humiliation returns as I visualize my bloated romas which even bugs, not to mention my own family, refused to eat.

Gardening is a rather messy business at times.
 He continues softly. It’s not for mysophobiacs. Dung and dirt are part of the deal, dear.  You'd better get used to it. If you want to disinfect, sanitize, deodorize everything in life, watch out lest you scrub the life out of it. If your goal is to keep everything clean, comfortable and - nice - he emphasized the last word - all the time, at all cost... soon enough your life turns into a bland concoction of nutritionally empty words and actions... much like the tasteless veggies you grow in your garden where one can’t tell the difference between a tomato and a squash, cilantro and St. Augustine grass. What comes out of your anesthetized, manure-free garden - tomatoes and all - 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, August 01, 2012

When Life Delivers a Truckload of Manure on Your Driveway

What on God’s good earth is that smell?? I gasp as wave after wave of repulsive odor washes over me.  I think I am going to lose it...

It's cow manure.
The Gardener shrugs his shoulders as if this is the most common occurrence in the known universe. Premium grade. I got a great deal on it and since your yard hasn’t eaten anything in years, I thought you could use a little extra… You might want to put some rubber boots on before we start shoveling though…

Eyeballing the mountain of cow dung towering over our house, I know that in an instant we have become the neighbors everyone in our county loves to hate. He calls this 'a little extra'???

It takes him only about twenty-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 getting 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 orchestrated 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?