It’s hard to fully tell you the pleasure the garden gives me. It is a living picture, a piece of art to gaze upon. Seriously! That’s how it feels. The years I’ve put into it pay dividends. Small but not miniscule, it draws me like any space indoors: What can I do here? How can I make it better? Would that look better moved over there? I rearrange just like inside, always tweaking details. It makes me happy. I spent nothing this year on plants or extras, things being what they are. I figured I’d work with what I have and then was fortunate that people gave me living things: tomato seedlings, seeds (basil, bean, okra), and just this week a hanging petunia with the palest shade of creamy yellow flowers. I gave away things too – about a dozen large hostas. I broke out my lovely chimes and my Dollar Tree decor 😁 (I thought to attach/tape my little spinners to a shepherd’s hook and bamboo stick so that they sit up off the ground and catch more wind – for such simple items they sure don’t lose my interest!).
In March I found a potted hydrangea by the road. It was the pot that attracted me; I only discovered a small, sad hydrangea surrounded by weeds in it when I got closer. I thought: who throws out a hydrangea?! (A plant that would not be cheap at the garden center.) Hydrangeas are early summer bloomers that basically look like ugly dead sticks in winter. In season, however, they have large colorful blooms of various hues (which depend on the soil makeup). They don’t always bloom; a hard winter can kill off potential blossoms. From one year to the next, I never know which of my hydrangeas – I have several – will put on a good show. There was no guarantee this free one would bloom but it did!
And what it looked like in March. You can see why nobody else had bothered to snap it up.
It is difficult to convey to you how thick my pleasure with this summer has been. I wrote about it in an earlier post. Nothing special is happening. It’s in me. I will not complain about anything crummy that summer brings. Well, except I DID get stung by a wasp in June. And I’ve fought slugs all summer long so that I could have pretty flowers and Basil. And I must wear slimy layers of sunscreen and mosquito repellant whenever I set foot outside. And the yellow jackets are getting into their “pissy” season when they’re more likely to sting you for no good damn reason. And some days it’s so hot & steamy I feel listless and like a big slug myself. But I jest. Sort of. I mean these are minor complaints.
I think what I am feeling is a tentative RELIEF. A relief that has allowed me to be more accessible to summer itself.
Somewhat rambling and possibly not as-relevant-as-it-could-be aside I’ve decided to leave in> It’s like when you are sick in bed (or I imagine laid up in the hospital although I’ve fortunately never been) and you tell yourself if only you were well, you’d never complain about anything ever again, and you’d do all these fun things, and read those great novels you’ve almost meant to get to, and tackle the projects you’ve postponed, and get a better job, and improve your social life, and start or finish that hobby you’ve always thought would enrich your life, and SO ON AND SO ON. Almost certainly, when you do recover, you do none of these things or just a few. Or one. Or you do one or two for a little while and stop.
It’s not, however, like I made myself a bunch of promises I didn’t follow through on. I made myself no promises. Still, feeling relief is a big thing.
I maintain that when you feel bad – for whatever reason – it’s often not possible to see just how bad until you start to feel better. It’s in the better or improved stage where you see how far you sunk. I don’t know about you, but when I am low, it becomes my “normal.” It becomes who I am. Anything else is theory. Supposing you are drunk. That’s all you are. You can imagine being sober in only a theoretical way, but you can’t think sober and you can’t be sober. You could read about being sober but that wouldn’t make you sober. You are drunk and that is all you know. A sober person could describe to you how you might be or act if you too were sober – or your “normal” self – but it’s meaningless. That’s how I think being low is. Only when you emerge from it, is it possible to see where you were.
I’m not trying to say I’ve been in a horrible malaise or dark depression. No. But in the last year I’ve had a problem in my life that has cast a pall which has permeated far too much of my being. And the summer before I had a different problem on my plate. I need to feel safe and secure. And I didn’t. Recently though, it’s been a little better. I will take that. I will take that and I will run like a crazy woman with it.
People like to talk now about first-world problems. That our troubles are nothing and we’re just big babies who don’t know what real trouble is. I wish I could find the right words to say this is a false comparison. It doesn’t help to compare my life to that of people in Syria. Or the Ukraine. Or anywhere else. I’ve tried. I look at the horrible footage or photos of every bad thing that goes on in this world year in and year out, like I’m sure you do, and yes I feel real empathy and sorrow. And for a moment I can on that attitude that my troubles are nothing; how would I like to have to flee from the only home I’ve ever known with nothing but what I can carry and an uncertain future ahead as bombs dropped on my town? Or how would I feel if I had to scrounge for a little food and didn’t know how I’d feed my children? But I can’t stay in that state of mind. My life is the one I’m living in my own head. It’s where I am.
Let me try again. It’s USELESS to make these comparisons. It doesn’t solve their problems and it doesn’t make your own go away. Sure, if it can make you feel a little more gratitude or be a more giving person, that’s great. I’m all for that.
Look. If everything was so hunky-dory in a first-world country, people wouldn’t be drowning themselves in alcohol, and stuffing every kind of drug they could into their systems, and shooting each other, and robbing each other, and killing themselves, and eating enough for 3 people, and shopping obsessively, and gambling their last nickel, and spending 12 hours a day on the internet, and screwing up children emotionally and physically, and ON AND ON AND ON. Okay. There. I think I’ve found my point. It’s different. The problems are different. It can’t be compared.
No. I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from. Nor do I have to worry (too much) about a bomb being dropped on my neighborhood. Or a vicious dictator taking over my country (too much). But that doesn’t mean I don’t have worries or things that impact my quality of life, its purpose, its meaning, its satisfaction. I can’t minimize them. Nor do I feel I should.
I’m going to go back again to the man I know who shot himself dead in March in the middle of my town in the middle of the night. I knew him. He was an extroverted whirlwind of a man. He was a pain in the ass. He was bigger than life. He had a nice first world life. He had enough – more than enough – to eat. He had friends. He had hobbies. He had a car. He had a house (although he was in danger of losing it). He had bicycles. And computers. He was dug in. He wasn’t just coasting along. He came and he lived. Maybe a little too much in some respects, granted, as he was given to excess and indulgence. He had all the riches a first world life can offer. Or so it seemed. It didn’t matter. The life he lived in his own head was not good enough. And he’s – sadly – not unusual.
These are the things I’ve thought about this summer. They are the background music to my sheer joy at meeting a rabbit, or trying to befriend skinks, or feeling the warm air on my bare skin, or staring at the richness of the colors in the flowers, or eating a salad of fresh tomato, basil, and mozzarella, or taking a long, leisurely walk gawking at everything along the way.
When I was younger, there was a beautiful TV commercial with a tag line “I am made of blue sky and golden light I will this way forever.” I loved that line and it resonated strongly with me. However, let me be the first to tell you it sounds overly simple and naïve to me now and I most certainly did NOT “feel that way forever.” But sometimes, sometimes, I very much do.
It’s hot. But you will not hear me complain about the heat this summer.
Last summer was tainted for me. I was dealing with a big problem that clouded everything else. In fact, this problem, one that is almost entirely out of my control, has been on my table for the last year. It was made worse because the people who were in a position to help, didn’t. However, this summer, so far, it’s a bit better.
Two years ago in the summer I was dealing with a different kind of problem. It too is not now the issue it was then.
I don’t know if either of these two problems I cryptically describe, will get bad again. It’s certainly possible. But right now, in this summer of 2016, I am grateful for the improvements because they have freed me to enjoy the season I love best. And when I say enjoy, I mean to feel like I’m paying attention. That I’m not missing my favorite time of year and everything I treasure about it. Because when I’m preoccupied with a trouble, far too much of my attention, my capacity for focus, even on good things, is siphoned off.
There’s something else at work here. Earlier this year I wrote of how a man I knew killed himself. It’s now 4 months since he died. I continue to struggle to believe he really is gone and never coming back, yet he’s become a reference point for me. I think about how he’s not here and not getting to do all the fun things summer offers. He will not have an ice cream cone. He will not listen to an outdoor concert. He will not take a walk after dinner on a balmy evening. He will not ride his bike or play tennis. He will not sit at an outdoor café and have a cold drink with friends. He will not go to an afternoon matinee at the theater to escape the heat. He will do nothing. He will not do anything ever again.
By contrast, I am here. These summer pleasures are mine for the taking. It is bittersweet to feel this way.
I wrote a little something this week:
Hair blowing back untethered
Earrings jangling in the breeze
Gravel flies beneath my tires
Peddling like I’m ten again
I am alive.