My neighbor had a stroke on Memorial Day weekend. What I know about him mostly comes from observations over the fence. This man is in his seventies and spent hours each day working in his yard and giant vegetable garden. His niece recounted a story to us about how, before he even built his house on the land, he lifted up a handful of dirt and said, “This is MY dirt.” Because I knew only that he had a heart for his land, and a fondness for putting Scripture in his self poured concrete, I took only a second’s thought to agree to tend to his garden while he recovers.
I always thought that I wanted to have a nice big garden, but now I know that I have no desire for anything bigger than a few square feet. Working this land has been like babysitting someone’s hyperactive sextuplet toddlers to decide whether or not you want kids.
It is certainly a big job, but one I feel was given to me at the exact time when I needed something big and difficult to manage. I have a lot of big and difficult things flying around my head that cannot be managed, dealt with, or changed. Nothing unusual to me or to the human condition, but enough that my chemo brain and recovering body slipped into a depression like I have never experienced before. There are days and weeks when I feel moderately better, but then there are entire months when I would rather just crawl back under the covers.
Here’s the thing about gardening: it happens in the sunshine and you cannot do it from under your covers. If it was my own garden, I would have left it alone and let it die, but I feel a certain charge to have my neighbor return to see his land was not neglected. This charge has seen me spend hours pulling weeds, watering dozens of fruit and nut trees, and having most of this time all to myself in the quiet outdoors. Dirt under my nails has not cured me completely of depression, but I do believe it has kept me from disengaging altogether.
And so, while my dear neighbor works to come home, I am also working to come home. I needed this deliberate quiet time to chat with God and marvel at His creation and I never in a million years could have guessed this would help at all. I thought I just needed a cruise to Cancun, but whatever.