It’s been one of those weeks where things don’t go well, as usual.
One of my student loan holders demanded I renew my information for income driven repayments, even though the whole country is supposed to be on pause right now, no reason that I could understand as to why, so I logged in to the Department of Education– which is how I found out that my littlest loan from another creditor had defaulted. Again, no reason as to why. Again, no explanation as to why the loan pause didn’t effect this one. We’d been making the payments I arranged over the phone every single month because we were told we had to. If I’d known this was going to happen, I’d have given them more several weeks ago when we had money. It still wouldn’t have been enough, but it might have kept them happy for the month. And then this morning I got a bill for a quarterly payment of municipal tax, which isn’t taken out of my paycheck since I live on tips. I can’t understand how I owe them so much when I don’t make much. It was more than a month past when they ought to have billed me, so there was a late fee on it. That on top of yesterday’s water bill. I don’t know how anybody can afford to live in Steubenville. I don’t understand how people can afford to live at all.
I was raised with the social convention that you’re not to talk about finances because it’s not polite. People who have money to cover necessities worry privately about money. They never talk about bills or taxes or paychecks; that’s rude. Now I live in LaBelle, where rude people swap horror stories about the time their food stamps were docked and the time their federal taxes were audited when they expected the refund any day. They chat about the time they got evicted for holding the rent in escrow because of the shocking condition of the house. They one-up each other about the repairs they had to do themselves, the duct tape fixing the furnace, the pipes that burst, the bed bugs.
I do like candor better than social convention, most of the time. So I talk. I talk about bills. I talk about life. I talk about what it’s like to be afraid, and to despair.
I had been fantasizing about what it would be like to have good credit and a down payment for a house with an orchard on a double lot in Pittsburgh or back home in Columbus, knowing full well it was impossible, and suddenly the outlandishness of the fantasy broke over me like a water balloon full of ice. Going home is as impossible as escaping to the magical land of Narnia. I will live in a small town in a bad part of Appalachia forever. Might as well get used to it. That hurt. I wished I’d never been born.
When I opened the door to go out to the community garden, I saw that workmen were back at my menacing neighbor’s house, just as they were last year, doing something to repair her porch. She was there, full blown manic again, talking to them a mile a minute, wearing slippers and a scarlet bath robe which was open, the bright red belt hanging down in the back like the devil’s tail. I felt my heart shoot up into my throat, as it always does when I catch sight of her on her energetic days. I took evasive action, zig-zagging around to the backyard and fleeing down the alley.
I wish I had even the slightest bit of courage, but I don’t. She still scares me out of my wits, and there’s no moving away.
Again, I wished I’d never been born.
I hurried to the garden on the other block.
It had rained hard last night. Dandelion and bindweed had shot up everywhere all of a sudden. The grass in the fallow part of the garden had sprouted, and the poke was nearly as tall as I was.
In the raised beds, however, everything was just as it should be. The soil was dark, rich, chocolatey, fragrant. The popcorn finally looked like corn instead of blades of grass. The sunflower seedlings had doubled their leaves. The bell pepper was fairly bursting with little baby peppers and the tomatoes were a mass of blossoms. Potato vines poked out of the mounds I’d made on top of them only the day before. There were tiny buds on the zucchini, each of them dotted on top of a brand new baby squash that was skinnier than a chopstick.
Someone had filled in one of the last three unclaimed beds, with rows of tomatoes and yellow marigolds.
Things were growing and living all around me. They were growing and living not only in more beautiful places, but right here in the chaos and the hopelessness and the impossibility of LaBelle, where nothing good can happen.
I bent down to pull weeds and then I just sat, on the wooden side of one raised garden bed, breathing in the life.
I have come to believe that the universe exists for three reasons. One is just because it ought to, for its own sake, because it is good to exist, because things are better than not things, and that is reason enough. The second is as a catechism, to teach me about the Creator if I am attentive enough to read it. The third is so that we can live and breathe and wonder and take comfort in it, whether we learn a lesson or not, whether we amount to anything or not, whether our life story is ultimately a tragedy or not. Plants go on growing, sending out tendrils, shooting up stalks that reach toward the light, making blossoms and fruit, because it’s good that things exist, and because it’s good to pay attention to them, and in case anybody might benefit from them even for a moment.
I benefitted just then.
Just then, for a fleeting moment, it felt like everything was all right– not as it should be, but all right.
Everything was in the hand of a God Who knew that I might like to admire some tomato blossoms today.
I exist, and that’s a good thing.
I picked a bouquet of fragrant cilantro to have with my lunch.
I carried it back, not through the alley but up the sidewalk as if I had a right to be there.
There was the neighbor with her red devil’s tail. She stopped in mid-sentence to glare at me, indignant, arrogant, preposterous. She glared for a full minute as I walked past. The workmen, who couldn’t understand why she’d stopped, stared helplessly at me.
I carried the cilantro into my house, pretending not to notice.
Somehow, it felt like I had won.
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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