Memorial: Kindness and Growth

I went to my favorite nursery and garden center early Memorial Day morning.

I went over budget. They had my favorite clematis, Duchess of Edinburgh, and when I picked up one, it was hopelessly entwined with another; so much so that I bought them both. Best friends. Lovers. They will live their lives together each year at the corner of my porch.

I went over budget this year because I bought what I wanted. Not what was half dead on sale. Not what I thought would grow and feed me through the winter.

I bought clematis. I bought a rose. Ghost pepper and one new tomato. A hosta. Beautiful things.





Last year, I gardened as if my life were ending.

I have anxiety - at times deeply unsettled, sourceless anxiety, as if someone has set me on fire.  I poured all my stress and all my worry into the ground. 

Most of my plants died.

Understand this. Willing something to grow does not make it grow. I neglected the foundation of gardening. I stripped the soil of everything it had to give and expected it to give more.  

This is the meditation of my life. I was a philosophy major. Every big question is answered by a bigger question. Questions upon questions. I stand in front of the cosmos and only questions tumble out. 

But I understand plants. 

I understand their parts, their needs, what they are telling me each day. I understand the soil and the water. This is my only religion, a growing plant. And on purpose I pushed those limits; I ignored what I know to be true. I listened only to the fear and in return the ground gave me nothing but dust and broken roots.



This year I scaled back to the basics. 3 tomato plants. Two winter squash. Flowers. Sacred blue corn. A ghost pepper and a sweet pepper. 

The soil has to be rebuilt. 

rebuild the soil

If I am impatient and neglect the basics, I cannot garden. There is unseen work done in preparation for the showy parts of the garden. When people visit, they appreciate the towering tomatoes, the lily beds, the mint growing like weeds, but no one ever comes and says

your soil is beautiful. 

It isn't the flowers they appreciate, but the healthy, unseen microcosm curled around the roots. They appreciate the dirt.




I was reading an article in the Atlantic about what makes couples stay together or break up. According to  "Masters of Love" by Emily Esfahani Smith, there is one major factor for determining the longevity of couples.

One secret: kindness. 

Many things happened to my marriage last year. Things that uproot and destroy. But more insidious, over the years before, a small loss here and there. We turned away from each other. We lost our kindness. 

It is no accident that I lost everything in my garden the same year I lost my partner. There are universal needs for all living things, after all. We are connected.  

I neglected the soil. I demanded that things grow without first working on the environment that causes that growth.  When we lost our kindness towards each other it was only a matter of time before things withered.  

The article describes couples turning towards each other. Couples that were together after a few years showed interest in small parts of each others' days. And I lost that. 

It's difficult to admit these things. I've struggled for two weeks over this piece. I do not take on culpability for my partner's actions, or the actions of others involved, but I understand where we were before 2015 happened. 


My anxiety has expanded. I've struggled to keep my public face together. I recite words when I start to lose it, words I've memorized, usually poetry, The Kaddish, 1000 lines long, I go as far as I can

strange now to think of you gone, without corsets and eyes, as I walk down the sunny pavement of greenwich village, downtown manhattan, clear winter noon and I've been up all night talking and talking, reading the kaddish aloud and listening to ray charles blues shout blind over the phonograph

the rhythm

the rhythm

and when I can go no further I start again at the beginning. 

And when it gets really bad I switch to Spanish and the words become mantra

preguntarais,  Y dónde están las lilas? Y la metafísica cubierta de amapolas? Y la lluvia que a menudo golpeaba sus palabras llenándolas de agujeros y pájaros?

My liturgy of anxiety.


Orange rose

I've been reading a lot. My boss posted an article that killed me. The Context of Love is the World: Liturgies of Incarceration, and this is what I hear. Over and over.

"look harder and more humbly at people I'm tempted to dismiss when I believe they've wronged me, to not reduce a person to the madness of a moment, as if it's the whole of who they are, as if they are nothing but the outburst or the dark decision they've made and the effect their action has had on me. As much as I want to cut an aggressor down to size, nobody's ultimately just an asshole, an idiot, a murderer, or an addict."


I believe in this. I tend to my own soil first, the hidden unseen parts of me that can forgive and let go of the past. This brings peace. It doesn't matter what I say about what happened; what matters is that forgiveness, kindness, becomes my liturgy, my soil, and when things grow in me they resemble the lilies. (tweet this)