It’s finally after Mother’s Day– in Ohio that means the chance of frost is gone. The lettuce and kale that survived last winter’s snow is bolting. It’s time to get out there and garden. I love gardening so much; it’s great for my mental health and it’s good exercise. I feel so proud and helpful when I can bring a bag of bush beans or lettuce to the Friendship Room to share. My idea of a perfect home would have a triple lot for a giant garden, a postage stamp orchard, an apiary, a flock of chickens and a paddling of ducks, and still a clover lawn left over for children to play on. When I garden I feel better able to pray than at any other time. But I’m afraid to go into my backyard.
The menacing neighbor has already started her summer sport of screaming obscenities at us when we go outside. She’s wandered out of her house wearing nothing but a bath robe to film us on her camera. She lets the barking German Shepherd out on his chain to urinate on our yard. She stands under our window muttering frightening fantasies about having the police raid our house– she claims that Rosie and I are prostitutes and Michael is the pimp. It’s only a matter of time before she starts up the vandalism again. I have nightmares about her.
Maybe I’ll just not garden this year.
It seems like sacrilege not to garden, but I panic at the thought of my yard. I don’t even like to look out the window.
The police were very nice when I filed a report. They think I should get a civil restraining order. I’m looking into it. It’s hard to know what to do. I’m not a lawyer and I can’t afford a lawyer. I don’t know what counts as evidence. I don’t know if putting all the police reports I can I can gather before a judge will make him scoff and rule against me, and then the neighbor will be more abusive than ever. I don’t know if the sheriff serving her the order would make her even angrier– after all, a restraining order is the kind of thing that can’t be enforced until it’s already been violated. And then there’s the fact that I’m also scared of the police. I saw what they did in my hometown of Columbus. I don’t see any reason that having them on the property wouldn’t make it worse.
I don’t know what to do about the garden, and I don’t know what to do about the neighbor. I have no earthly idea.
Not knowing what to do is the worst feeling, far worse than ordinary fear.
I was raised to believe there’s an answer for everything. Everyone is supposed to have a “spiritual director” who orders them around in the name of the Holy Spirit, to Whom they have a direct pipeline. My mother appointed herself my spiritual director, and hers was Sister Angeline. Your spiritual director tells you what’s a sin and what’s not. She tells you you’re being too hard on yourself or else she tells you you’re not being hard enough, and you must believe her. She tells you what penances to do and what prayers to say. She says she has a Word from God for you, and it’s wrong not to take that word and run with it. God gives her a sense of peace and you do what makes her feel at peace. She berates you for your sins and you listen. You can always know exactly what to do because someone is there to tell you.
I am not a Charismatic anymore. I can’t believe what they believe. The best part of this is also the worst part: I don’t have anyone to tell me what to do. I have to use my best judgement, make a choice, hope it’s the right one, and be brave. And I hate that. I am not brave.
Rosie has been stir crazy this week. She was invited to go to the annual carnival with a friend on the weekend, and I said “yes.” It’s the first risky thing we’ve done since last March, but hopefully not too risky. All the adults on the trip will be fully vaccinated, all the children will carry masks in the pocket in case it gets too crowded, she’s going at a time that probably won’t be crowded, and it’s all outdoors. That still might not be enough, and I hate the unknowing. But Rosie has been lonely for a solid year. Mental health is another form of health. So I made my choice, and she’s excited.
Her excitement is maddening. She asks how much longer until we go, about once every hour.
The anxiety of the neighbor, the longing to garden, the fear of my own backyard, and Rosie’s excitement drove me stir crazy yesterday. I decided we had to get out of the house.
The Neighborhood Trolley is still making that noise. I keep resolving to get it fixed and it keeps not working out. The car mechanics in Steubenville are usually only open until five, and they can tend to grump at you that they don’t have time to fix your car unless you get there early in the day. But my various chronic illnesses make it hard to get up early. And the head fog of waking up early combined with how skittish I am on main roads is a bad mix. So it hasn’t happened yet. And then there’s the constant worry of how we’ll afford to fix it. I don’t want the embarrassment and extra expense of causing even more damage to the car by driving it on frivolous trips when it needs to be fixed, but I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I made a choice.
I told Rosie to get her shoes on, because we were going to Beatty Park.
Beatty Park is farther away than the park at the far end of LaBelle. It requires driving around downtown and making several dreaded left turns. If the car did decide to break down once and for all, It would be a long hike home. But Beatty Park has a creek and hiking trails through beautiful woods. It’s a place I can breathe in nature and pretend to be a Tolkein elf. I made my choice, and we went.
I parked the car and we hiked to the swing set, further into the woods, far enough back that you can’t hear cars zipping by. It feels like Real Appalachia and not Industrial Appalachia, like nature instead of fracking and coal. There are so many beautiful birds and trees, it feels like the place where everything is alive.
Rosie got on the swings and launched herself toward the sky.
I walked along the bank of the ravine, listening to the creek babble. I watched a red-bellied woodpecker swoop across the playground and attach himself to the side of a tree. I admired the dandelions, and pretended to be a Tolkein elf.
I prayed to Saint Michael, whom I always imagine looks like Elrond.
I read somewhere, I think in the diary of Saint Faustina, that Saint Michael was someone who stood up and made the right choice when he had no precedent to follow at all. Eons and eons and eons ago, before the material world was made, before the angels could see clearly, he had no spiritual director to order him around, no Bible to open and get a word, no Lives of the Saints to look to for an example. He just knew when something sounded wrong and said so. He stood up against the enemy and said “Who is like God?” Then war broke out in Heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But Lucifer was not strong enough, and they lost their place. The good angels won.
I don’t know what that event looked like. It surely doesn’t look the way I’m picturing it in my mind: Saint Michael looking something like Elrond, the other six archangels standing there awkwardly looking just as much like illustrations in a fairy tale, Lucifer great big scaly dragon with a forked tongue, wearing a Dominican sister’s habit, posing as a spiritual director, trying to tell them he had a perfect plan and all they had to do was go along with it. And then Saint Michael has to make a choice. He makes the right one. He draws his sword.
This is why I think of Saint Michael as the patron of people who don’t know what to do. Of people who have to make difficult choices. Of people who have no one to boss them around, and of people who wish they had someone to boss them around, and of people who need to defy the person bossing them around. Of people agonizing over a hard choice, and people who can’t admit to themselves that they’ve already made a choice and need to stick to it and be brave. Of being in a place with no precedent and having to make it up as you go along. Of unknowing, and of realizing that you can know.
I think of him as my patron, because I never know what to do.
When my mother dropped me off in Steubenville for the first time, she said, “I just hope this place can do something for you, because we give up.”
It has, Mother.
It has showed me the falsehood of the Charismatic Renewal. It has turned me into someone who makes choices. I am not always sure that my choices are right, and it scares me. But it’s better to be me than to be a Charismatic.
This is what I pondered as I stood on the grass at Beatty Park, pretending to be an elf.
Rosie and I went home feeling better.
I am still not brave, and I don’t know what to do. But the answer will come.
I’ll have to come up with it myself, but it will come.
Image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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