And so, it seems that I am now a gardener.
I am increasingly comfortable describing myself that way — as “a gardener.” I haven’t been at it that long, so in no way am I claiming to be an expert gardener, or even a very good gardener, but I am someone who gardens, who loves to dig in the dirt, and who is in thrall to plants and garden design and soil pH and all of that. These days, I even listen to gardening podcasts on a regular basis. Surely that fact alone earns me some plant nerd cred.
Yep, I am now a gardener. I blogged earlier this summer about how the experience of growing my own garden has reawakened a sense of fun for me, something that had gone totally MIA in my life since I lost my son Henry two years ago; fun is an exceptionally tough thing to relocate after your worst imagined fear actually happens. Since I wrote that earlier blog post about finding fun among the flowers, and as I have continued to work on expanding and planting and cultivating my garden this summer, I have also continued to ponder the strong and steady pull that this patch of dirt seems to have on me now.
Yes, it’s fun. No doubt. But there’s something more to it. Why and how is it that I long to get outside and work in my garden whenever I feel overwhelmed in any direction? How is it that after 27 straight months of trying everything from transcendental meditation to grief-numbing medication to try to calm my stricken mind and shattered spirit that I am so readily able to slip into a zone of relaxed, yet steady focus simply by weeding and digging and watering? What’s up with that?
I couldn’t really figure it out until I had an aha moment a few weeks back while reading a lovely memoir by well-known gardener and garden blogger Margaret Roach. The book, titled, And I Shall Have Some Peace There, explores the author’s own multi-decade journey into the garden, and I found that in telling her story, Margaret Roach was able to articulate very clearly what it is about gardening that has been so helpful to me in settling my restless soul back into some sort of semi-working order. While I couldn’t quite find the words myself to describe what gardening does for me, Margaret Roach did.
“Even then, when I had no botanical Latin or any confidence in what I was doing, gardening had become my first moving meditation, my yoga…When I was weeding, I was really weeding…I as in it as if it were the motions of vinyasa… I admit it: I garden because I cannot help myself. …It is no wonder that so much of gardening is done on one’s knees, this practice of horticulture is a wildly humbling way to pass one’s days on Earth…To be a gardener is to come face to face with powerlessness….and to cultivate patience as actively as you do botanical things…I know only one thing for certain about gardening now, thirty years in: Things will die… The garden is where there’s no pretending that living things don’t die…When I was raking, I raked – in the moment of raking awareness, neither thinking in shoulda, coulda, woulda monkey mind, nor wandering into daydreams, past or future. Being truly at attention and one with the task; that sense of perfect union was what I’d not found anywhere else…”
Yes, exactly that is what gardening is like for me. That’s what I feel when I am among my plants, with time and space to dig and think and dig some more.
I now realize that the garden is both fun and fundamentally centering for me. It’s joy and contemplation and prayer and exercise for my body and muscles and mind and spirit, all rolled into one activity. And really, isn’t a combo like that basically the holy grail of what we all need from at least some avocational activity in our lives? I think so. We all need the sanctuary of some time and space in our lives to do something that both energizes and heals us — a something that is just for us.
I am so grateful to have pretty much accidentally stumbled into my own sanctuary at a time in my life when I needed it (and still need it) so desperately. However, now that I have found it, I have realized that even without the horrible trauma of having had one of my children die, I had gone too long denying myself the joy that a truly pleasurable and relaxing extracurricular passion offers. But I don’t think I am alone in having allowed myself to put my own need for time and space to to carve out my own sanctuary behind others’ needs. I see many if not most of my friends who have children at home doing the same thing. Dancers who become mothers quit dancing. Guys who meditated regularly before fatherhood stop sitting still long enough to breathe slowly, much less meditate. Runners no longer run, and passionate readers no longer find time to indulge in new fiction because they are too busy reading chapter after chapter of Harry Potter aloud at bedtime each night, after which these parent-readers collapse for the night themselves.
In my own case, I was an avid equestrian throughout childhood and teenagehood and into my first two years of college. I rode for fun, and I rode competitively, and I never in a million years imagined that beginning when I gave birth to my first baby in my early 20s I would then go two decades without regularly sitting in a saddle. But that’s what’s happened, even though riding had always been my sanctuary before I became a mother; it was the thing that gave me clarity and brought me back to center, even as it made me grin from ear to ear with sheer exhilaration every time I went over a jump.
I always assumed I would ride again. Except, it just kept not happening, which meant that I was cut loose from any sort of centering passion in my life. There were certainly things I enjoyed doing over the years, but that one thing was missing – the kind of personal sanctuary that horses and being around the barn had always provided for me before I left that part of my life behind.
Every year after I stopped riding, I’d tell myself that “soon” I’d be able to get back to doing the thing I loved most. But there was always a reason why I didn’t. I’d say to myself: “after this pregnancy,” or “when the baby weans, ” and then “when he/she starts kindergarten,” or “when there’s a little more money available,” or “when my divorce is final,” or “when my work schedule eases up.” But time and more time passed, and I never rode. I never made it happen, even as I made sure that other family members were able to pursue their passions and interests. Seeing people I love get to do what they love certainly brings its own kind of joy and satisfaction, but it isn’t the same as doing it myself. Sanctuary isn’t really something one can experience vicariously.
I still believe that the day will come again when I will be back on a horse. But in the meantime, when I really didn’t have any way to tap into the moving meditation that riding had once upon a time provided for me, and at the time I needed exactly that more than I ever had before, along came my garden.
Thank God for the friends and neighbors who started that first small, lovely garden bed for me in those terrible days right after Henry died — those early days when I couldn’t even leave my bedroom. They clearly knew something that I didn’t yet about what plants and dirt and growth and weeds and sunshine would do for me, when I let them. And I think Jon must have known too that I needed the sanctuary that the garden could give me. For the past year, my husband has done nothing but smile encouragingly when I linger outside on my knees in the dirt after work until it’s too dark for me to see my trowel any longer. And weekend after weekend, he’s happily urged me to spend Saturday mornings ambling around local nurseries and plant swaps, soaking up all the information I could about my blossoming hobby that’s so much more than “just a hobby” for me.
(Thank you, Jon. I love you.)
And I don’t think it’s a concidence that after seeing the way “getting into the zone” in the garden has benefited me, and how much I have enjoyed it, that earlier this summer, Jon announced that he was ready to start running again, something he loves but had given up when new babies and work and then losing Henry and just everything we’ve lived through — good and bad — had gotten in the way. And now he’s back to running five miles, four to six times each week after he gets home from work, and it’s just as wonderful for me to see him finding his own sanctuary in a good run as he says it’s been for him to see me find mine in flowers and mulch.
Yes. I am a gardener, because gardening has become my sanctuary. And I have come to believe that everyone — not just people like me who have experienced tragedy or trauma — needs to give themselves the space and time to discover something that makes them feel the way gardening makes me feel
So now let’s talk about YOU. How about you? What puts you into the zone? What kind of fun do you have on a regular basis? Do you have a sanctuary? Or are you at a place in your life where you’re missing that, and know that you need to find a way to have it for yourself? What do you truly love to do, or what have you always wanted to do, just for your own self? What is an interest you’ve always kind of wanted to check out, or what’s the thing you loved to do before parenthood, but that you’ve denied yourself since bringing the baby home. What’s keeping you from doing it?
(And here’s the part where I get just the tiniest bit bossy with y’all. )
You deserve to discover or rediscover your own sanctuary in the middle of your life – something that gives you both joy and peace. And you need it. Trust me on this, I get it now.
This is my sanctuary. What’s yours?
READ MORE FROM KATIE OVER AT MAMAPUNDIT (HER PERSONAL BLOG)