Monday, February 2, 2015

A True Gardening Story about Life, Faith and Loss

by M. J. Joachim

It was a warm, sunny Arizona afternoon. The summer heat hadn't quite kicked in yet, even though it was May. I was busy with my three small children, ages six, two, and one when the phone rang. For some reason, I didn't want to answer it, but that didn't keep me from picking up the receiver.

My mom, who lives in California, promptly said, "I have good news and bad news," without even saying "Hello" first. I pressed my feet firmly into the kitchen floor. "Okay. What's the bad news?" I asked. She hesitated for a moment. Then she said, "Your dad has cancer, but the good news is that it is operable." My feet didn't hold as I lowered myself to the floor, trying not to drop the phone. "Is dad there?" I asked. "Can I talk to him?"

After I got off the phone, I went and sat in the purple, armless chair in my living room. I thought of so many memories from my childhood. My family grew up playing in the waves of Santa Cruz, California. We would wake up early, and drive the half hour journey regularly during the summer. We would admire the playful gardens that people planted, many in their front yards. Dad would get ideas for our own garden, and then we would all spend the next weekend creating dad's vision.

Dad loved gardens. He enjoyed working with his eight children, as we dug up the dirt together. Then we planted seeds that would grow into food for our table. We learned valuable lessons about life in our garden. Dad used every opportunity to show us how our actions, and lack of actions, helped or hurt the garden. "They do this in real life too," he would say.

I felt the need to act as I sat in that overstuffed purple chair, tears streaming down my face. Here I was living in another state, while dad was dealing with cancer, and facing surgery. My dad very rarely got sick, and when he did, he never gave into it. I knew in my heart that he had no choice with cancer. I also knew that his greatest garden was his family.

My mind began to think of ideas that might make dad smile. I started thinking about stenciling a garden for him to keep in the hospital. Then I thought of how people sign casts when someone breaks a bone. I knew dad wouldn't be wearing a cast. I wasn't sure if dad would be able to wear a t-shirt. I decided to stencil dad's garden on an apron for everyone to sign.

The symbolic representation of a garden stenciled on an apron did not go unnoticed. Dad pointed out how he loved to cook and eat the abundant treasures our family grew together year after year. He recognized the many pictures of fruits and vegetables that were staples in our own garden growing up, and he smiled. When visitors came, he always asked them to sign his garden. Once again, Dad used the garden to grow memories, and reflect on life.

Dad has been gone for more than ten years now. While I have never mastered the technique of growing vegetables in Arizona, I have managed to grow some tall, majestic flowers. These flowers help me teach my own children the same values my dad taught me to practice, and cherish. Every so often, a gentle breeze will blow, and my flowers will seem to wave at me. I smile knowing dad must be close by.

Actually, Dad has been gone for more than 17 years now, and my garden has changed quite a bit, since I first wrote this article. It’s still a work in progress, and I still love tall majestic flowers in it, but I also like hedges and other more permanent features too, things that define it and make it easier to work in. I’ve had a lot of dreams about Dad lately - Mom too, and even a few of my siblings. The challenge of faith is not necessarily to be faithful. For only God knows the truth in our hearts. With unspoken words of love and peace for all those I hold so dearly in mine.
M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved Photo credit: Carl Spitzweg (1808 - 1885), Museum Oskar Reinhart, PD-US