Perfection

“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.” ~Michealangelo

My hands were black, dried out and sore. I never wear gardening gloves.

“Don’t ask me to do this again!” I laughed. Three hours of weeding and de-cluttering a stranger’s garden convinced me that this was not my cup of tea. I can work in my own garden, like I can play with my own children. Just don’t ask me to weed yours. We’ll disagree on the degree of doneness. I promise. But it’s yours so we’ll do it your way.

“Wanna see the rest of the gardens?” my mom cajoled. We’d stayed in the front of the house, heads down, rarely talking because she had her garden bed and I had mine.

“Sure,” I said as I straightened my back inch by painful inch. I’d  dug and pulled and thrown weeds, sticks ad leaves onto a tarp while sitting on the grass, and then, to add insult to injury, I ended the job by  lugging the million pound tarp to the side of the house for future pick-up from the pick-up guys. How did she do this every day? Why did she come back for more? Well, wasn’t coming back, but I didn’t mind taking a tour of the torturous grounds.

Yes, that’s what they were in my eyes now. Work.

“Remind me of this when I design my own yard. It’s so much to care for!”

We made our way around the house, calculating the hours, days and weeks of work for two people to finish.  The gardens kept going and going, and I quickly got overwhelmed. There were brown, decaying leaves under ivy, Vinca and Pachysandra that had to be painstakingly removed without hurting the plants, as well as  weeds that were growing out of control under them.

I watched my thoughts and tried to reconcile the perfection I saw with the request for a more perfect perfection – one that required unending scheduling with Mother Nature, always trying to beat her clock before ours timed out.

I would have left the leaves. I didn’t see them until I was told that they were on the “to do” list of the unwelcome and unwanted.

It bothered me that I saw them as bothersome whereas before they were just there.

I have no idea how to put into words what I learned today unless I compare the garden I worked in with two of my children right before they stepped into their bath tonight.

Every inch of them was smelly and dirty. They laughed and wrestled, racing to the bathroom and into the water. Washable and faded tatoos covered their bellies and arms. Dirt had settled in ears and nostrils and belly buttons. I scooped up the dirty laundry and brought it to the cellar as they splashed and played.

When they were done and wrapped in towels, they took off screaming, looking for clean clothes while I drained the tub and watched perfection float down towards the drain.

I was reminded of this quote which I’ll add to our ponderings:

“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Perhaps what I’m seeing is a life well-lived and how to underschedule it so that it can be enjoyed? Maybe I just see that some things are perfect just the way they are and shouldn’t be messed with. Cleaned up once in a while…maybe.

Do you know what I mean? What do I mean? Someone please explain it to me!

 

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What if Today…Two Roads Converged?

“… and that made all the difference?”

” Uh, oh,” my mom said as she noticed the tears in my voice . I knew she’d understand because she knows my soul. She’s like that. She “gets” people. I’d been upstairs by myself watching one of my favorite tv shows, unwinding after a long day. I was only a few minutes into watching it when a rush of forgotten feelings woke me up. “That’s who you are and that’s who you aren’t being,” I heard myself say.

“I can’t get back, Mom,” I told her. We talked for a bit, me mostly, and I hung up  probably because I was needed. I can’t remember. What I do remember is that Tuesday morning was a challenge. That was the “morning after.” Once I remember who I am and why I’m here, everything I do takes on new meaning.

I held a potato in my left hand and a paint brush in my right hand and couldn’t make sense of the paint. I washed the mouth away three times and called it a day. There was no sense “trying” to create when my mind and heart couldn’t focus. Instead I was trying to remember, again, what I love to do – what makes me lose sense of time and space. I love to paint. But I need depth, if that makes sense to you? I can only stay in fun and fairy tales for so long before I want to connect substance and meaning to what I’m doing.

A half a day later, emotionally drained, I “found” myself   again as I was driving to the Family Search Center for my bi-weekly stint as its director. The radio was on as usual and the song that was playing the night before my dad died decided it was the right moment to make itself useful, while I had nowhere to run and hide, and nothing available to distract myself. “Yeah, Dad. I remember,” I thought as I drove. My hardened heart opened up for a moment to let in refreshing light and love.

And then people started to arrive. My alone time had consisted of 10 minutes, and I suggested that the gathering of friends that had congregated in my office move to the “big” room because, well, it was getting cramped in there and no one was leaving. I set up my laptop and started painting a potato, fielding questions about it and simultaneously helping my friend with her search on Ancestry.com for her great-grandmother. I was painting a mouth again, struggling with the nuances that made it his mouth, straining my eyes on the upper lip of the right side of it.

And that’s when it hit me. I’m in love with those nuances – the tiny, seemingly insignificant details of a person’s face and  life that tell a story. I stared at the half-finished potato face and realized it wasn’t silly to me anymore. It was a person who had a story to tell. I was reading that story on every detail I was trying to recreate as I saw it through my eyes, just like the stories I recreate from data found and researched from documents and photos I find on the Internet or in my personal belongings if they are my ancestors. What I had been led and gifted to do in my life is to want to see and tell a person’s story. That is who I am.

I LOVE THAT.

Someday soon it’ll all come together. I know it. I just need to forgive myself for the delays and lack of focus and chalk it up to…I don’t know…life?

I hope you are finding meaning in what you are doing every day. Are you?

Back Through the Garden Gate ~ Ending

Chapters: 

One

Two 

Three

I’ve loved writing this story. I could have gone on and on. But I have things to do, so it ends today. Enjoy and thanks for reading!

What had she done? She turned the key over in her hand, reading the tag, letting the implications sink in. The visitor  had knocked on her door yesterday while she’d been making dinner.

“I believe this was meant for you,” she said as she held out the key to her. “I was going to keep it, but it didn’t feel right.”

“It fell out when I was planting the peony.  I think you were meant to find it? Or did you put it there? Either way, I left the plant on your steps. Maybe you were meant to keep it?

And then she turned and walked back through the door, leaving the woman wondering what had just happened.

It had been weeks since leaving his garden and she’d had a hard time readjusting her heart. Now it was shocked back into the past – the numb walk she’d made home the day she was told that she was no longer a welcome visitor. She’d grown accustomed to her quiet days that had a loneliness sprinkled with happiness about them. She’d learned a lot about herself, but not enough to say she was okay.

A few days ago she’d come across a hidden bunch of daffodils in an overgrown clump of grass on the outer edges of her land. As she looked at them and thought about how much she understood them- how no one would enjoy them unless they, like her, stumbled into them – a scripture came to her mind to teach her:

“Consider the lilies of the field; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these….Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field….shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith.”

She knew she was beautiful inside and out, even with her flaws. But she was also lonely. How much alike she and those flowers were. But they were different, too. She wasn’t a flower. She could move around and do as she pleased, just as she’d taken that walk  to his garden two years ago. But she realized now that she had her own garden to tend. It wasn’t perfect, but it needed her. It brought her a lot of joy as well. Her needs, those that she’d had filled by her visits to the Gardener’s, would have to be met in her own garden. She had to have faith that there would be visitors to her sanctuary as well. Her job was to bloom where she’d planted herself and nurture with gratitude everything she’d been given. There was no other way. But it wasn’t enough to change her heart until now.

After being given the key, her heart and mind started putting the pieces of the puzzle together for her. She knew just what she was going to do. With brown paper lunch sacks she went from plant to plant, gathering seeds from blooming flowers. She labeled them so as not to forget what she’d collected, sorting them into homemade seed packets when she was done.

“These are for you,” she said with a smile. ” They’re annuals, but they’ll self-seed.”

“I know,” he smiled back. “I’m a gardener. Remember?” And they both laughed.

“What took you so long? Why didn’t you come back right away?”

“It’s a long story for another day. But I needed to learn how to give what I have and not to take what isn’t mine. These seeds are mine to give.”

“Want to come see the new footbridge?” he asked.  “I spent a week fixing it.”

She giggled remembering the lilies. “I can for a minute. But then I have to go home.”

And they walked back through the garden gate into his sanctuary.

Back Through the Garden Gate ~ Three

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Only a week ago she would have asked the Gardener how to prune the roses cascading over her garden bench.

But she was on her own now and would have to figure out how to share the reading space with the plant or risk damaging it with her limited knowledge of pruning. No lasting harm had ever been inflicted before because of her ignorance, when she had no access to expert advice, and it was time to go back to learning by herself.

But that task would have to wait.

She’d found some time to sit and ponder, so she was taking it.  No work was ever done before she was renewed and refreshed.

The rose bushes had been planted by the previous tenant. Her one addition to the spot was the Corsican mint she’d planted around and beneath the bench. The tiny plants thrived in the moist yet slightly sandy soil. Her favorite moment of her silent experience, one which she saved for dawn every morning, was stepping on the ground cover as she approached the bench. She would wait for the smell of the fragrant mint to creep up and settle in with her as she closed her eyes and listened for the birds. Once filled, she would focus on the milkweed a few yards away, adjusting her eyes to see the butterflies, if there were any, sleeping beneath the leaves, waiting for the sun. She knew they wouldn’t be flying ’til they were warmed and able to escape hungry birds, so sometimes she’d have to come back twice in the day to watch them.

But it had been a long time since she’d been here in the sunlight. That is, until last week when all of her free time came back to her as an unexpected gift to use as she pleased. And sitting here is what pleased her the most.

She’d been blessed with a peace that grew stronger every day. Her family was doing well without the fruit that she thought they’d needed, and her heart was filling with a different kind of love, one that had always existed and would never die, one that didn’t depend on other people filling her needs.

She spent her days remembering without meaning to, and forgetting, not noticing how easy it was to live in the present.However, the  lilies at the footbridge that were probably near dead by now would call to her every now and then.

The Gardener told her that he didn’t check his mail thoroughly if at all some days. That saddened her because the neglect would kill them, but the gift was given and no longer her responsibility.She’d done no better with her gift, as she’d let her potted peony sit on her steps languishing in the hot sun for days.It was time to plant it so that its roots could stretch and strengthen the plant. But instead of transplanting it in her garden she set it outside of her picket fence with a note attached:

” Please give me a loving home.”

Within an hour it was gone. She’d watched with melancholy through her bedroom window as her gift was re-gifted to a passing woman and her child.

Pulling a book from her bookshelf, she sat on her bed, opening it in search of a blank page. Carefully she plucked off some peony petals from the cutting sitting in the teacup across from her and placed them between the pages. Whatever found itself on the pages of that book became a buried treasure that she’d be able to find and enjoy when she needed it.
Closing the book she read the cover before slipping the it between the mattresses. She’d written the title herself years ago on a whim. Just one word that meant everything:
“Remember.”
Simultaneously, another woman held a key in her hand. It had fallen to the ground when she’d removed the peony from its pot in order to put it in its new home. She’d hesitantly picked up the orphaned plant an hour ago while walking and after reading the pleading note stuck in its leaves. Looking at the tag attached to the key she was perplexed and amused at the same time. There were two lines written in black marker.
One was an address.
The second line seemed like an invitation.
“If you ever need a friend.”

Back Through the Garden Gate ~ Two

Back Through the Garden Gate~One (click to read)

“The grass is always greener where you water it.” That quote was driving her mad. She’d stared at the peony cutting nestled in her grandmother’s teacup for two days, knowing that no one would ever understand how that sentiment could wreak as much havoc with a soul as offer hope. She’d lived in the world of “Do More” for so long that her self-esteem was near dead. Not because she hadn’t tried, but because all of her efforts had met failure.

A branch from the culprit, her beloved apple tree, scratched at the window, reminding her that it needed attention. Her resentment was full-blown which added to her guilt; she knew no one would understand that either. She’d chosen the tree years ago because she’d always wanted a fruit tree. But there had been problems from the start. She’d read up on pruning and fertilizing and had done all the right things as far as apple trees go. She was no expert, so she kept at it, year after year, hoping for fruit that wasn’t worm-infested or inedible. How could it be resistant to all of her care? That, she knew, meant that something was wrong with her.

But what could she do? What should she do?

“Stick with it. You bought it.” Those were the thoughts that she fed herself when her mind hungered for direction. “It’s a living thing. Don’t abandon it. It will surely die without your care,”  sang the wind to lull her to sleep after an exhausting day. She’d received more advice on how to care for her tree than she could shake a stick at, as they say. But she was getting nowhere with the tree. She was desperate for answers and walked endlessly to clear her mind. Maybe she’d be guided to the wisdom of the Master Gardener? It was becoming more of a long-shot, but she was loyal if nothing else.

It was almost two years to the day that she’d set out for her daily renewal and had been gifted by the heavenly sight of the hidden garden. Her heart sensed the immediate conflict: this is what you’ve been missing, but it’s not yours. Two distinct emotions started a steady tear down the center of her being: profound sadness, and exquisite joy.

She’d met the Gardener within minutes of passing through the gate. He was kind and wise and let her wander the grounds as she pleased. For two years he listened as she explained her problems with her apple tree, and gave advice here and there. He grew accustomed to her regular visits and admitted to being annoyed with her every now and then. But for the most part, they were best friends who grew to love each other and depend on their time together. What’s more was that he had fruit trees that yielded more fruit than he could eat. So he sent her home every day with delectable treasures.

The peony in the cup stared back at her. Its presence reminded her of her new reality: no more visits to the garden and no more time with the Gardener.

She stood, suddenly remembering the potted peony sitting on her front steps. She’d plant it later, or maybe not at all.  But today she had to somehow make the gardener aware of the bulbs she’d planted a few days ago, the day before she was told that she was no longer welcome.They were lilies and she knew he’d want to know that they were there.   She’d drop a note in the mailbox about them. She’d seen the box perched precariously on a metal rod, lodged among the rocks at the entrance to the garden.

She hastily wrote a note: “At the foot of the foot-bridge, on the opposite side of the river, I’ve planted some lily bulbs. Just wanted you to know that they’re there. Sorry I didn’t ask. Thought you’d enjoy them. They’ll need watering. Take care.”

Moments later she was closing the mailbox door. Looking up she saw the now-notorious sign and the padlocked gate. She tried hard to come to terms with her loss. Why were the no-trespassing rules suddenly applied to her? Why had it taken so long – two years – to lay down the law?

She turned and left. Those questions would have to hang in the air for now. Her heart would either survive or it wouldn’t. That didn’t matter much anymore.

The Gardener watched her retreat and was perplexed. The key went unused. He surmised that she’d made her decision and she was happier without him. He left his hiding spot and returned to the care of his garden. Today he’d repair the foot-bridge.

Back Through the Garden Gate

The garden had become her refuge. It was the place she came to be filled and renewed. She’d never seen anything so beautiful. All of her favorites were there, though she knew the names of only a few. The peonies had been staked, probably by The Gardener. Their fragrant blossoms were intoxicating. It was the bed of carnations that she loved the most. Roses were most people’s flower of choice. Not hers. Carnations brought her back somewhere in her past. It was a good place, but she didn’t remember where. She just loved the way her head spun when she inhaled them deeply. Nothing else could do that to her.

Every day she’d come to the garden in the clearing at the end of a dirt road. She’d found it two years ago when she was wandering. There was a magic about the place, like it was created just for her. There were paths that meandered through and around the plantings that had been lovingly cultivated by the master Gardener. She wondered if anyone else had ever discovered this place and secretly hoped that nobody would, even though that thought carried a twinge of selfishness with it. She spent hours soaking in the beauty of the place and always went home happier and refreshed.

“Didn’t you see the sign?” he asked tenderly, startling her from her imaginings. “Can’t you read?” he asked a bit abruptly.

“I saw it, but the gate was open. I, I don’t understand…,” she stammered.

“The sign says, ‘Private Property, No Trespassing’. That means you have to leave, and I’ll need my key back.”

Reluctantly she stood, taking in last breaths of her favorite place in the world, asking herself simultaneously how she’d cope without it. She dropped the key into is outstretched hand with a sigh and turned to walk away.

“Wait,” The Gardener said as he walked to the shed. Within minutes he approached her sadness with a potted peony that he’d just dug up. He caught her eyes as he passed it to her. She found hope in them. Hope for what? She didn’t know.

She heard the gate close behind her, and the lock clicked.

And she was gone.

The Gardener turned to his sanctuary and smiled as he contemplated her surprise when she found the key to the gate  tucked in the side of the pot.

Back Through the Garden Gate Two