I don’t get on planes because they might fall out of the sky. And I hate light traffic in the rain and heavy traffic anytime, dry or wet. Yet you could be rinsing oatmeal from the breakfast dishes, hot water flowing through slippery fingers when a crane comes crashing through the living-room wall, breaking more than your concentration. Or, without warning, as Billy Collins writes in his poem Picnic, Lightning, “the heart, no valentine, decides to quit after lunch…”
That mortality lurks in every one of life’s nooks and crannies is more than inconvenient to the chronically phobic. For those of us wired with nervous systems so sensitive that an unexpected loud sneeze sends our startle reflux into over-drive, living is a mind-trip with frequent daily excursions to existential dread and death anxiety. Xanax, meditation, or grin and bear it, gut-wrenching desensitization sessions are but a few remedies proffered by sincere doctors, friends, and relatives. These treatments can and do work. I know, I am a psychologist who reads about empirically supported interventions from the latest journals. However, I believe in the healing prowess of gardens. The garden is a place of possibility, where my negative thoughts compete for airtime with deliberations about color, placement, and leaf texture. While planting a rosebush my thoughts focus on optimal hole depth and the proper height of the bud union. The future is a sweet smelling, pale pink blossom, whose beauty seems miraculous on a crisp, early fall afternoon in New England.
It is ironic that the garden is a haven for my anxiety-riddled mind. Nature has been recalcitrant this past summer, as mischievous as a middle school teen at the end of too many days in a classroom. What glee to pour nine inches of rain over our already soaked Pioneer Valley soil or uproot a giant tree and sling it up an embankment into an oncoming car. Still, I feel relaxed as I pour vegetable scraps, flecked with fruit flies, into the hot compost pile, teeming with microbes that will make the black gold I spread on the beds. My garden is a place of possibility, where I give thanks that I do not have to send my children to a well, miles away, so I will not be raped. In the garden I conjure stonewalls, to build, not the bombs that blow them up.