It’s one of those times where it just doesn’t rain.
There was a severe thunderstorm warning for at least seven hours, a few days ago. The clouds rolled by. The air was heavy and thick with water, but it didn’t come down. Instead of cooling off in the evening, the temperature stayed up.
This is the first year I’ve been able to grow peppers with any success. The other times they were eaten by bugs. This year I have three gorgeous, shiny, waxy bell peppers just beginning to ripen on a bush, and then they each developed a quarter-sized dry black circle that cracked open, exposing the seeds. I picked them and thoroughly soaked the soil with water and milk, for blossom end rot. And then I had to go out after dark and water the rest of the garden with pails from Rose’s wading pool, because the rain never came.
Last year, Rosie went to the public pool with her father almost daily. This year, she has a shallow wading pool we fill with a hose. But it’s been too hot even for that today.
If I still believed in the angry, vindictive God of my childhood, I’d say this heat wave was a punishment.
Rosie didn’t play in the pool yesterday. She played under the shade tree with friends, perhaps for the last time. They built castles in their sandbox and caught fireflies when it got dark. These children, on our block in LaBelle, are as poor as we are. Their parents don’t often have cars. They walk to the local market or catch the bus sometimes, but most often they don’t leave the house at all. In other summers the children have lessons or activities in Belleview Park, or at least go to the pool there, but this summer there isn’t anything happening, so they stay in. They are, effectively, quarantined. The children play together in an island of normalcy– outdoors only, in fresh air, in small groups, wash your hands when you get back to the house. I let Rosie start doing that when the governor began re-opening the state two months ago. That has been safe for the moment.
I don’t think it will be safe for much longer.
I don’t think anywhere will be safe.
Ohio has a color-coded map now, a heart-shaped patchwork quilt of hot colors county by county. The yellow counties are the lowest coronavirus risk. Orange counties are at higher risk and it means the cases are surging out of control. Red is severe. Funeral violet means a crisis, the hospitals are overrun and you have to shelter in place. We have no violet counties yet, but we have more and more red. In the red counties, you’re required to wear a mask. In orange and yellow, they beg you but don’t enforce it.
Days ago, our status was raised from Level One to Level Two: from Code Yellow to Code Orange.
I am glad that I got to daily Mass that one time, because it surely won’t be safe to go again for awhile.
If I believed in the fearsome god of my childhood, I might say that COVID-19 is a punishment he sent to make smug Catholics in the United States feel what it’s like to not receive the sacraments for months. Last year I saw so many Catholics angry at the Catholics in the Amazon region, saying they’d just have to accept that they could only receive Holy Communion once a year, rather than anything change. And now, here we are. But I don’t believe in that god anymore.
If I can be morally certain that a thing is petty and wrong, then I can be morally certain it’s a thing that God would never do. And that is how I think about God these days. That is how I think about life. That’s how I interpret the Bible and everything else. Because a god who would be petty and vindictive, is a god not worth my time– because that god is less than I am.
I refuse to worship anything less than I am. That would be idolatry.
I worship the God of Mercy, the God Who comes to be present to us in our suffering, the God Who is with me. Emmanuel. I worship the God Who comes, occasionally with miracles I don’t stop praying for, sometimes with inspiration of what to do to lighten others’ crosses and end up lightening my own along the way, and often enough only with His promise that He will suffer with me until its over, and make my passion His own, and make of my life a Godly life.
Today was not a very merciful day– or, at least, it didn’t begin mercifully. It began at midnight last night, when it was finally cool enough to work in the garden, and I discovered that the threads on the sink spigot were worn off so I couldn’t attach the hose to the sink anymore. We don’t have an outdoor attachment on our hose. There was no water in the kiddie pool left to use, so I ended up toting pails of water around to the backyard, pouring half a pail here and there, tiny rations of water just to keep the plants alive, and it still hurt my arms.
The morning was hotter and dryer than ever. I was sick from the heat and Michael was worse– he either had a bad stomach bug or severe nausea from the heat. He had to stay in bed or leaning over the toilet all day long. I couldn’t even walk out to catch the bus to buy him medicine, not with the way extreme heat tortures my fibromyalgia. The downstairs was so hot, I had to shut the doors to the dining room and kitchen so the one air conditioner box would cool those two rooms enough that the refrigerator didn’t overheat and spoil everything we had. I made a nest of pillows for myself on the dining room floor under the air conditioner to wait for the heat to break.
I ordered InstaCart groceries for the week, Pepto Bismol and more Gatorade than I ever could have carried for Michael. With the tip and delivery fee it was much too expensive, but a friend had mercy and helped me since I was stuck with no options.
I guess that’s when it started to be a merciful day.
The groceries came, and I put them away and four-starred them online. I can’t imagine giving someone less than four stars and a 20% tip for bringing me food. I let Rosie teach me to play Plants Versus Zombies and tried not to compare it to my battle with the menacing neighbor who hates my garden.
When it got dark, I decided to make it rain.
I got out the duct tape to see if I could make it hold the hose onto the worn spigot, and after I’d used a third of a roll it worked. I threaded the hose out the side door to the garden– it didn’t quite stretch all the way, but I let it soak the ground under the enormous squash plants for several minutes and then I used it as a fountain to fill my big bucket.
Out of my big bucket I dipped Rosie’s sand pail and poured it onto an eggplant that was infested with flea beetles and probably won’t give me any fruit. Then I soaked the eggplant again and again until the soil all around it was thoroughly drenched. Next, I watered the rosemary that never took to the soil and grows in a sad curly heap next to the pile. I watered the bush beans and pole beans that faithfully give me two big handfuls of fresh purple and green fruit every day, pail after pail until they were sitting in luxurious mud. I watered the strawberries that gave me nothing because they’re brand new, and won’t bear much fruit until next year at the earliest. I watered the corn which is up to my waist, the cilantro that bolted as soon as I bought it, the kale that grows exactly two servings of salad daily because it’s shaded by the beans. I watered both the small and the enormous basil– the small is growing nicely but the enormous one is riddled with bugs. I watered the place where the onions used to be, where I’ve harvested the onions to make room for that obnoxious pumpkin plant that will eventually creep all over the garden. I watered the two broccoli that were spared at the neighbor’s rampage– one of them is crowning out nicely, but the other keeps opening its leaves and opening and opening without flower like a practical joke broccoli. They both got an enormous drink. I watered the peppers– the anchos, the lunchbox peppers and the banana peppers that had no trouble with rot, and the bell pepper that was disappointing me. I watered the oregano and the cucumber vines my friend brought, when I hadn’t thought to grow any cucumbers. I watered the parsley.
There were weeds in that garden I mean to pull out when the heat breaks, but I’ve been too hot and now it’s too dark. I might have ended up pulling something I wanted to keep, so everything growing got generous water. I even watered the bare soil in between the plants, where I’d planted bush beans that hadn’t come up yet. I watered them with faith that something would grow if I only gave it what it needed to survive.
I went around to the front and soaked that most practical potato planter. Then I soaked the soil for the wildflowers and sunflowers that do nothing useful except look beautiful and make me happy.
Every time I dipped my pail into the big bucket, the hose had filled it with cool water– my very own makeshift garden fountain that never ran dry.
I poured a few pails over my head just for fun. It was the first time I’d felt cool in days.
All of my plants had water to last them through tomorrow’s heat wave until the sun goes down again.
For awhile I forgot COVID and the heat, Michael’s sickness and all of my worries. I reveled in the glory of water, plentiful water, water for me and water for the just and unjust plants, life-giving water enough to flood the whole world that was mine and water to spare.
That’s the God I believe in. I believe in mercy.
Mercy will make it rain, in time.
Image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross.
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