I’m out in the garden talking to Keith on the phone. Hands in the dirt, gently teasing the weeds out to get as much root as possible. This small garden has provided all sorts of abundance. Metaphors, stories, surprise at the exquisite beauty of zucchini flowers reaching out from under broad leaves to find the morning sun. Oh, and fresh peas, a taste of raspberries and anticipation for vine ripened tomatoes promised by the plethora of flowers on the vines.
There is a familiarity to this, like the memory of a forgotten time. A body memory that runs deep in my being.
In an odd way the pandemic had sent me into exile in reverse. In leaving my home, I have landed back in the garden. Here, where I’ve come to live with my father-in-law, I have re-learned the beauty of dirty hands and the meditation of weeding.
I grew up with backyard gardens and pretty traditional -- in the modern western concept of middle class colonial tradition -- family structure. We lived in a single family neighbourhood where most dads went to work and most moms worked at home keeping house and raising kids. Outside jobs the women held tended to be secondary to the men's jobs. Pretty much everyone had a backyard food garden.
My family were not great gardeners. We spent too much time away in the summer, camping and travelling in our truck and camper. None-the-less I grew up with fresh snow peas, beans and swiss chard. In my memory those were the things that seemed to thrive. I remember that beans were so prolific we would freeze them for the winter. We snapped the stem end and pulled off any stringyness, my mom scalded them quickly in boiling water and then dumped them into a cold bath. Once patted dry in clean tea towels, we’d bundle them into serving sizes in plastic baggies for freezing. Provisions for winter.
As an adult I moved away from the suburbs. My husband and I raised our son in a highrise apartment in the city. I haven't tended a garden for 40 years.
Recently, reading one of many emerging articles about the body's microbiome, the author noted that one of the modern losses to our gut health is our clean, indoor environments. We no longer get exposed to beautiful soil microbes. And now with the pandemic we are also encouraged to wash our hands more than ever, use hand-wash if water and soap are not available and to wipe down our houses frequently with chemical washes. While I understand the impetus for this in this moment, I also wonder if the extra sterility ultimately will make us less naturally able to fight a virus like corona. Dirt helps boost our immune system. I wash my hands when returning from the grocery store then put them in the soil of the garden.
The garden here is small and planted in raised beds. But it is enough to get the experience of dirty hands as I gently tease weeds out while chatting with my friend Keith on the phone. One of the beds was planted by the neighbours who thought it might be a project for their daughters during isolation. Truth be told I rarely see the daughters there and the tending leans toward watering. There are plenty of weeds to keep me busy while Keith and I muse about the world, our hopes and our place in those hopes, as we collectively, around the world, shift into post pandemic.
And here in the garden is where I was able to articulate my growing recognition about my role in the moment as someone called to a path of spiritual healing. It is to embrace this time of stepping into the role of caregiver, nurturer, an intimate symbol of the Feminine Divine and a role I pushed against for many years. Now, like Mother Earth, I am called to offer myself and my gifts to the world.
One of the paradoxes of the path of energy healing or shamanic work, much like any spiritual work, is there comes a moment when the next step in connecting more expansively is to focus inward. I, like everyone, have wounds received from my life, family, culture and choices. This inward journey leads to deeper personal healing. And it is in this moment that I have landed here, in exile in the garden with responsibility to care for my father-in-law who, at 89 and a widow for 9 years is also experiencing the ravages of cognitive decline. There have been times when I was out in the community working for justice and finding solutions to homelessness. I helped start, and ran for many years, a large community ministry in my urban neighbourhood. Now my world has become smaller, my focus caring for this person. Suddenly I am keeping house and home in a way that I never did for my own husband and child. I was the one who worked outside the home. It was my spouse who did day-to-day child-raising and all of the laundry. Raised in the 70s, I learned that women's roles were not valued and I scorned them. Yet the work of healing is the work of nurture and here I am, given this time now to nourish my role as nurturer.
I have never had a good relationship with my father-in-law. It wasn't bad, just superficial, not really a relationship in any meaningful way. He had been a distant father, wrapped in alcoholism. He's been dry for most of the time I've known him, but not healed.
I recognize that this time of building something with him, offering him the care of good food and companionship, brings healing to the whole family. My call of the moment to healing the world is to begin with myself and to care for Bill. As I build a different role and relationship with him, I bring deeper healing to the whole family line forward and backward.
My world, narrowed to this small suburban house, this moment, is what I need to focus myself, to bring healing to the family and our relationships and ultimately create new ripples of love that emanate out, sending that healing into the world. The garden is bringing me there.
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