Bravery- (noun) Firmness of mind and will in the face of extreme difficulty.
I consider myself a brave person. Not brave enough to stand on the shoulder of a mountain road while Europeans, driving rally cars at ungodly speeds, go whizzing by sideways with only the bodies of crazy fans and photographers as guard rails. Not Russian-Roulette-brave. I mean taking-an-online-health-survey-brave. Writing-a-letter-to-a-friend-about-how-I-admire-them/how-I’ve-been-where-they-are-and-how-it’s-shitty-now-but-the-sun-will-come-out-tomorrow-and-other-vulnerable-crap-brave. Growing-a-garden-brave.
I was reading one of my favorite authors this evening, Anne Lamott. (If you don’t know who she is, Wikipedia her, immediately, or don’t…just go buy Traveling Mercies and tuck in. She is the only person in the history of my human experience that has concurrently stirred me to: cling to God, question everything I know, abhor my insecurity, embrace my potential, and laugh out loud in public places. Worth the read.)
She was recalling some of the truly divine experiences in life, “like breathing ocean air, or eating tomatoes from Old Man Grbac’s garden.”
As soon as the sting of the word “Old” wore off, the realization of my courage began to come into focus. It seems that when someone literary mentions someone’s garden, it always belongs to, “Old Man Grbac” or “Old Lady McCloskey.” In my own twisted way, I think this makes me brave for having a garden of my own and accepting the aged label that comes with it. I suppose I know that this bravery suit has a couple of very large and questionable shoulder pads protruding, for instance that, more than likely, no one literary will ever mention my garden; and, on the left shoulder, I am the youngest in my circle of friends, so someone referring to me as “Old Lady” would just be ironic followed by the swift, sweet reality that most of them were 40 before I was 30. But I choose not to dwell on the fact that my bravery is really cleverly cloaked arrogance. I plant my tomatoes each spring, and defy anyone, friend, neighbor, or child, to remark on my penchant to indulge my elderly leanings. I am growing a garden, dammit.
Not only am I aware of the geriatric traits I display, but I am gardening in the desert. Technically, I live in the Rocky Mountain desert. It would be hard to pinpoint for all of the lushly developed open spaces and landscaped medians and the manicured parks with Petunias in a serpentine “S.” But even the Greens Keepers have a hard time keeping the golf course fairways from fading into a withered straw color, and here I am tackling a myriad of plants with a multitude of persnickety personalities: Watermelon and Tomatoes insisting on the most water, more than anyone else, or they become stressed and their fruit breaks out in unsightly acne. Peppers, angry because I have fed them too much or not enough, roll the edges of their leaves in a brown, crumbly contempt and refuse to produce fruit. The Eggplants, too shy and insecure, stay small and hidden beneath the giant leaves of the overbearing Zucchini who eventually develops white mildew from over indulgence, the STD of the plant world. Not to be outdone, the Strawberries sprout long tendrils from which they produce daughter plants in an effort to remain the strongest party, safety in numbers, the popular clique. Then there’s the spearmint. The seductive, sweet fragrance its most cunning weapon, as a net-like root system laces its way through the soil, stealing nutrients from its neighbors in a quest to wipe out all competition, repopulate the earth, and rule the world!
I tackle my garden like a middle school teacher, trying to nurture the delicate balance between the hormonal individuals with as few temper flares and violent break outs as possible.
Which brings me to a third raison d'être of my bravery: wading through all those blasted hormones.
I have three daughters, 10, 9, and 1 ½. My 10 year old is an emotional over-achiever, of late, able to display anguish, elation, disappointment, laughter, tears, disgust, anger, desperation, and affection in the span of three and half minutes. By the end of her chemical diatribe we are both exhausted and more often than not, I have fallen into the trap and thrust my own hormonal response into the fray so that we are both arguing about whether or not I said something I did not say, but could have because I was bellowing irrationally. During which time, my 1 ½ year old comes over to hold my jeans in her fist and say, “no, no, no…” toward her older sister. My nine year old retreats to another part of the house to fly under the radar and make a mental note of “how not to piss mom off.”
After cooling off a bit, we assemble at our U.N. on the living room floor. I apologize and promise to try to act more like Canada and less like Nazi Germany, and start by lifting the four month ban on TV I laid down in my anger. She laughs and forgives me and shows me the seventeen poems she wrote about moving out and disemboweling her mother and tells me how she’ll tear them up, because she doesn’t feel that way anymore.
The sun comes out and I withdraw to my garden, thankful for the delicate hormonal balance or imbalance and that it doesn’t matter how much I screw up on this verdured plot. I’ll get a clean slate in the spring to remedy my short comings by reworking the seating chart and turning over the soil.
In the mean time, I resolve to explore new avenues of patience and understanding with my daughter and to resist the temptation of obsessive anger, or at least to take it out on the plants, instead.
So, maybe my bravery is more metaphor than actual bravery. It has less to do with sound mind and will and more to do with acknowledging my inadequacies, asking forgiveness for my temper flares, and making allowances for my world and the people in it to grow and change.
Maybe I have less fortitude and more stubborn resolve. But I believe there is bravery in gritting your teeth and plucking through. Hopefully, there will be a generous learning curve in dealing with the blasted hormones, for all our sakes, and time will be as forgiving and lenient as my English Lavender, the only grace in my garden.