Behind the Garden Gate

Behind the Garden Gate May 4, 2022

I went back to the Secret Garden.

We’d filled two beds on community work day, but there were still half a dozen to go. I wanted to plant my corn, but it seemed selfish to grow my own plants while the other beds were empty. So I tucked my shovel under one arm, and I pushed my new red wheelbarrow.

I pushed it right past the door to the evil menacing neighbor’s house, but she didn’t stir.

On the way to the garden, I began to catastrophize: what if the neighbor had found out about the Community Garden? What if she decided to destroy it somehow, just as she destroyed my old garden? What if I turned the corner and found my refuge had been torn apart, the raised beds reduced to kindling, the compost scattered, my seed potatoes in their planter torn to shreds, the filth from her detested German Shepherd smeared all over everything just as she’d done to our porch?

But when I got there, everything was just as I’d left it. The mound of earth, with one chunk taken out of it as if a giant had bitten it. The gate, shut but unlocked. The triumphant pile of logs where there had once stood a scrubby old tree growing through the chain link, blacking out the sunlight. The wilted heap of weeds I’d pulled on Saturday. The garden beds, mostly empty. My planters standing ready for tomatoes and sunflowers. The only intruders were a few friendly robins, treating the warm bare earth as their buffet.

I started to fill the wheelbarrow.

As I worked, I worried. I always worry. Worry is now my constant companion. I picture the anxiety as another Mary standing next to me, immaterial, partly transparent, connected to my body by an umbilical cord. And I hate her. I wish with all my heart I could cut the cord and send her flying off into space. I wish I could bury her alive and walk away without her. I wish I could stone her to death. I keep thinking back to the terrible books we hoarded about the worst quasi-Catholic superstitions, growing up. I think about the books about saints who were victim souls, and claimed the Lord Jesus was torturing them out of love, scourging their minds with agonies so that souls could be saved from the Divine wrath. I think about that one snippet of a book by an exorcist that was circling social media recently: the book claimed that the exorcist had firsthand knowledge of the Virgin Mary sometimes attaching multiple demons to a victim on purpose, so the demons could be punished by contact with an innocent person. The innocent person would suffer the agonies of hell their entire lives, but in the end the demon would be cast into the eternal fire and that victim soul would go to Heaven.

That ghastly monster of a Virgin Mary was the sort of image I grew up with. I was petrified of her, and still am.

Sometimes I think of my anxiety as a demon who looks like me, knitted to my soul by that fake superstitious Virgin Mary. And that makes it worse.

The barrow was full of warm, fragrant compost. I turned around backwards and pulled rather than pushed the load to the planter, turned again, tilted it, dumped, and went back to the mound.

What if the neighbor had heard me talking about the Secret Garden? What if she was just biding her time? What if she was holding out until the next manic episode or drug binge or whatever it is that makes her so hyper in the latter third of almost every month? What if in three weeks I came back to find my corn seedlings ripped out of the ground and the tomato plants destroyed? What if she destroyed everyone else’s garden and they all blamed me for being a Typhoid Mary, a Jonah who brought the curse down on the whole neighborhood project? What if they sent me away and gave my Three Sisters patch to somebody else?

Drag the barrow, turn, tilt, dump, return to the mound.

What if the cancer never takes her and she just goes on like this forever? What if the police never believe me? What if they believe her the next time she tries to get us arrested? What if I get arrested for something else? What if there was a typo on my tax return and the IRS are already on their way to drag me out of my house so my neighbor can get a good picture of me in handcuffs? What if she’s burning the house down right now, and Michael and Rose are trapped inside? What if she dies and somebody else moves into that house, and that person turns out to be an insane stalker as well? What if God is angry with me for wishing the woman who’s tortured us for seven years dead, and smites me with cancer like hers? What if the hospice I end up in is abusive?

Drag the barrow, turn, tilt, dump, return to the mound.

“Holy Mary mother of God, I will never forgive you for abandoning me in Steubenville.” No, you can’t pray that. That’s a bad prayer. Let’s see if I have another. “God the Father of Heaven, I forgive you for creating me. God the Son, redeemer of the world, I forgive you for calling me to Steubenville and not getting me out. God the Holy Spirit, I’m so afraid of you I don’t know what to say. Holy Mary, mother of God, I’m so afraid of you I don’t know what to say.”

Followed by a lot of other prayers too disorganized and nasty to put  down in print.

Drag the barrow, tilt, dump, return.

This time, there was an older man approaching the mound of earth, pushing an electric mower, startling me.

What if he accused me of trespassing?

Genesis tells us that eons ago, my ancestor Eve was also terrified in a garden. She was ashamed because she had recently discovered there was such a thing as nakedness, and she was guilty of nakedness. She didn’t know what to do, when she heard the Lord coming, so she hid herself. I was about ready to hide as well.

“Hello,” said the man. “I hope you don’t mind, I’m going to cut the grass.”

I said something I hoped sounded pleasant, and I went back to loading my wheelbarrow while he mowed the strip of grass and dandelions in front of the garden gate. Afterwards, he introduced himself, and I introduced myself.

“Ah, I’ve heard of you,” he said.

I wanted to hide again. I have a reputation for being bold online, but I am an annoyingly cowardly mouse in person.

He asked how I’d heard of the garden, and I told him about finding it on Facebook. He said he was so relieved somebody was filling the raised beds. He was so eager to get them filled, he’d thought about paying somebody to do it himself. He had gardened on this very spot for years and years, until the other volunteers left and he was the only one doing it. And then the trees in the back of the garden had gotten so big and overgrown that nobody could grow anything on this lot, and then the weeds and poison ivy had taken over the ground, and the garden was lost. He was glad someone else had gotten a grant to cut down the great big tree so the sun could reach the plants again. He showed me the asparagus patch we’d already found, and pointed to where the strawberries used to be. And then he took a stick, and marked the other full bed as his own for the year, and finished cutting the grass.

“Thank you for doing this, and it’ll be good gardening with you!” he said, and was gone.

What if my anxiety isn’t a demon pinned to my soul?

Maybe my anxiety is actually Eve, hiding from a God who doesn’t wish her any harm, in a garden that was long ago overgrown with scrubby trees and poison ivy, with no sunshine to warm the earth and make things grow again. Maybe she’s afraid because she found out one too many times that she was naked, vulnerable, able to be hurt. She doesn’t yet know that everything that could ever possibly exist is naked before a God Who knows everything already, and loves anyway. Maybe that God loves anyway because to the One who knows every possible secret, all of creation is still very good, worth loving, worth entering into, worth the sacrifice of Calvary just to be a part of it.

If only we stopped hiding from one another, perhaps the cursed earth with its thorns and thistles would be garden once again.

Drag the barrow, turn, tilt, dump. Smooth the pile of dirt over to back-fill the bottom of the bed. Return to the mound and start again.

It could be that my anxiety is me, and I am Eve, and the whole earth is naked, shameless and redeemed, and the gate to the garden is unlocked once again. If only someone would be gentle with Eve and help her out of her hiding place.

I worked until it was almost dark, and then I went home.

 

 

 

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.
Steel Magnificat operates almost entirely on tips. To tip the author, visit our donate page.

 

 

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