To Bow and to Bend

To Bow and to Bend August 10, 2020


I have a new garden friend now.

I haven’t seen him, but I know he’s there.

The other day, I moved Rose’s Fisher Price turtle sandbox which wasn’t filled with sand. She doesn’t play with it anymore, and it had a nice hole in the bottom, so I dragged it into the fenced garden patch and filled it with potting soil to grow carrots. Carrots need nice loose soil or they only grow tiny nubbins instead of long stems. Now the carrots are harvested, and I’ve decided to extend the garden to the absolute last possible day. I’m putting in cold-hardy things like peas and kale; I’m growing broccoli in my dining room from seed, to put in next week. The bare circle left by the shadow of the turtle sandbox would be the perfect place for a 90-day butterbush squash.

When I moved the turtle sandbox, I found that a visitor had been tunneling under it. There was a tiny hole I hadn’t noticed in the soil under one plastic flipper, and the indentation of moved soil in a wobbly line running the length of the sandbox to another tiny hole by the bush beans. Several of my royal burgundy beans had been borrowed and stuffed into one hole.

I ran inside and did some research. It wasn’t a mole because there wasn’t a mound. It wasn’t a rat because there was no stench, black smears or destruction of the garden. It was almost certainly just a little vole, harmless as long as he didn’t bring his friends for a party.

I went back out and stuffed a few extra beans into the vole hole.

The next day, one of my bright red sweet peppers was sitting near the mouth of the hole like an abandoned Christmas light.

I left a few more beans at the opening of the vole hole. I wondered if he could be coaxed to take a zucchini off my hands.

I’m told that when the Shakers found the deer were eating their gardens, they planted extra crops just for the deer to eat. That’s the kind of community they had. I don’t go along very far with the Shakers, theologically speaking, but living and letting live with the local wildlife is just what I like to do.

I’ve been humming Shaker hymns as a I garden lately.

O sister ain’t you happy? You happy? You happy? O sister ain’t you happy, followers of the Lamb?

O brother ain’t you happy? You happy? You happy? O brother ain’t you happy, followers of the Lamb? 

Then sing well and dance well, ye followers of Emmanuel! Sing well and dance well, ye followers of the Lamb!

I’m glad to be a Shaker, a Shaker, a Shaker, I’m glad to be a Shaker, ye followers of the Lamb! 

I’ll cross my ugly nature, my nature, my nature, I’ll cross my ugly nature, ye followers of the Lamb. 

Then sing well and dance well, ye followers of Emmanuel! Sing well and dance well, ye followers of the Lamb!

I don’t believe my nature is totally depraved and ugly. But leading whatever in me is ugly to the Cross by following the Lamb is always in my best interest.

I am pleased to have a garden friend. Rosie is pleased to have a pet, albeit one she can’t see or take inside. She monitors the vole hole and tells me about the vegetables that appear in it every day.

I am still not entirely happy in this house. I’m still regularly alarmed by the Menacing Neighbor, who likes to call me names and tell people I’m a “rat.” I don’t like gardening in such a polluted town, where the soil is so bad. I don’t like the culture of cruelty and destruction all around me. I’ve been wanting to leave Steubenville since I came here more than a decade ago, but moving costs money.

I keep searching online for nicer places to live. We have no money to buy a house, and what little we have is spoken for– I need to finish my driving lessons this month and somehow buy a cheap car as soon as possible, because they say riding the bus is going to get dangerous. When the COVID numbers explode in the fall and winter, it won’t be safe to ride public transit. The last thing on our minds will be getting a new house or even paying the deposit on a new rental. We’ll be lucky just to live.

Still, I’m searching Zillow every single day as if we’re all ready to move. I’ve saved every promising house between here and Pittsburgh to a long wish list.  They’re all in neighborhoods friendlier and safer than LaBelle, in towns better than Steubenville or at least a better part of Steubenville. They’re all respectable foursquares on a quarter or a third of an acre. I could never manage a whole farm, but I want a quarter acre. I want a postage stamp orchard, a strawberry tower, a raspberry bramble, a vegetable patch twice as big and still room for Rosie to play and adventure. I want a small flock of Easter Egger Bantams and a good dog to be Rosie’s companion.

I keep bargaining with God. I could be so much nicer to the poor, bring so many more nice things to eat down to share with the Friendship Room, if I just had more room to grow them.

My fibromyalgia flares when it’s very hot, although it’s much better this year than in years past. In past years I’ve been cloistered inside by the window air conditioner and not able to go outside at all in July and early August, but this year I can go out now and then. Still, I have not been strong enough to do a lot of weeding in the garden or to turn over the compost. My flowers out front are a mess. The cucumbers died because I couldn’t water them often enough.

I keep bargaining with God about that as well: I could be so much more helpful, if I could just stop taking days off.

I don’t have the things I want. I have a chronic illness. I have a rental house on 3900 square feet, with a personable elderly neighbor couple on one side and a menacing angry neighbor on the other. The Baker Street Irregulars run around making messes. I have gunshots and drug dealers just a block to the east of me, and insufferably snobby wealthy people who have told me they’re insulted that poorer people like me live in LaBelle just a block to the west.

I have red clover in the grass, which entices the bees to pollinate my garden. I have two hands to pollinate the few things the bees don’t help with. And I have a vole who helps me with the bean harvest.

There’s another Shaker hymn that everybody knows:

Tis a gift to be simple! ‘Tis a gift to be free! 

A gift to come out where you ought to be! 
And when we find ourselves in a place just right

‘Twill be in the Valley of Love and Delight! 

Where true simplicity is gained, 

To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed. 

To turn, turn, will be our delight

‘Til by turning, turning we come out right! 

I was singing that the other day when I hand-pollinated the tiny corn patch. You have to hand-pollinate the corn, if your patch is small, because corn pollinates by wind. In a large corn patch, the pollen is blowing everywhere. Corn begets more corn; small amounts of corn get you nothing if you wait for the wind to make it for you. I only have twelve stalks, so in order to get a harvest I have to take a bit of the pollen on my fingers and rub it on the cornsilk.

As I was rubbing the cornsilk, I came across a mantis just the same color of the green corn stalks, staring at me as only a mantis can stare.

I hate mantids. They usually make me want to shudder and go inside. But somehow it was so peaceful out in the yard that I didn’t remember to be afraid of the mantis. I just sang to her as I finished my work.

Where true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed. To turn, turn, will be our delight til by turning, turning we come out right! 

There’s a commercialized, capitalist notion of simplicity that’s marketed to people like me. I must say it’s very appealing. The way we’re told to simplify our lives, is by buying things. Take all our old dishes and books and clothing to the thrift store and replace them with brand new simple, color-coordinated outfits; plain white handmade flatware; a single handcrafted bookcase for those few books we most need. Get a house that’s fresh and wholesome-looking, all painted in white and shiny clean hardwood. Hang wooden pegs on the wall for organization instead of keeping things in plastic containers. Stuff your kitchen with fussy expensive organic foods in glass crocks. Spend lots of money and take a lot of complication to make your house, wardrobe and diet look, aesthetically, simple.

True Simplicity is something else altogether.

True Simplicity, the simplicity that Christians are to seek, can be gotten without spending a cent.

True simplicity involves living the life you have, rather than the one you envision yourself having, by the grace of God, relying on Him.  Of course this house and garden aren’t nice. Of course this neighborhood is a disaster. I haven’t got the money to replace my plastic boxes with glass crocks or paint the rental house’s ghastly paneling wholesome white. I can’t buy my dream house on a quarter acre just now. I can’t hide Easter-egger bantams from the landlord, and the menacing neighbor would probably feed them to her dog if I did. I can’t work outside in the hot sun every day. I can’t even get that car, not yet, not til I finish those lessons. And this is complicated and very difficult. It’s not aesthetic. It’s not fun. It’s not even safe. It’s dangerous, harsh and ugly. But it’s where I am right now. I am not called to be Mary who lives on a quarter acre and grows her own orchard in blissful safety, right now. God only expects me to be Mary who lives in the fusty old rental house in LaBelle, and reverences Him in the people I meet by the small means available to me. Maybe someday I’ll be somebody else, but my vocation is to be myself, just now.

That’s True Simplicity, the grace to be your own self, and bow and bend and not be ashamed. True Simplicity is the grace to turn and turn until you come out right– not necessarily beautiful or comfortable, but right.

To sing and dance, well or badly as you’re able, and follow Emmanuel, and cross the beautiful and the ugly in the nature all around you, and keep on following the Lamb.

O sister aren’t you happy, followers of the Lamb?

Yes, I think I am happy.



Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross

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