The healing garden
A father’s spirit—and his gentle lessons—linger
The endless summers of my youth were spent running behind my Dad, hopping into his big footprints left in the soft, sandy soil of his 3-acre garden, my metal bucket squeaking with each hop. After filling the bucket to its rim with fresh vegetables, he’d pull out two of the biggest tomatoes and we’d eat them standing there in his oasis.
As years passed and I moved on to city living as soon as spring was in the air I knew he’s start his garden recruiting. The call came to remind me it was time to till, or it’s time to plant this or that. This was his area of expertise. This is something he wanted to share with his daughter, but it always fell on deaf ears.
Last year was the first spring without my Dad, who had died six months earlier. Suddenly, I felt the desire to plant and nurture a garden. But as each seedling was planted, so were a lot of tears. Instead of feeling joy, my heart would swell and I was overcome with the feeling of loss in my life. Soon, I didn’t have the strength emotionally to continue, so I gave up and abandoned it.
One sunny day my son called from the garden. “Mom! Come look at this! This is amazing!” It was a beautiful, perfect cucumber! I couldn’t believe it. I felt overcome with pride. That’s all it took for me to return with more willpower than ever.
Now my garden is the first place I go to in the summer mornings, still in my pajamas, the dew on the grass– before the okra closes its magnificent yellow blooms with their mauve velvet centers. I pull a few of the last ripe tomatoes and feel Dad’s spirit flow through me as I gently place them in my bucket. I take one out and bite into it; the juice runs down my elbow. My eyes start to tear, but they aren’t tears of sorrow anymore, they are for the joyous recollections that have come to me here.
I feel closer to him here than any place on Earth. I hear his familiar voice in my ear: “Have you started your garden this year?” This year I can answer, “Yes, Daddy, I finally did.” Instead of turning away from his gentle spirit I feel here, I can now embrace it. I hope in some strange way I might communicate with him things I didn’t get to say before his death.
I close my eyes, I feel him walking ahead of me, and I want to run and hop into his footprints, my bucket swinging. I want to hold his rough and calloused hand, to hear his laughter. I want to tell him that I love him and words can’t express how much I miss him. That coming here to work in my garden nourishes my heart and soul and I now find peace here. I whisper to the gentle breeze that touches my cheek, “Thank you, Daddy, for the healing garden.”
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