Dear Readers: By now many of you have learned that my new book Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden is built around 52 lessons or metaphors from the garden. The chapter which became the name of the book–and ultimately the name of this blog–here follows. Enjoy!
Plant Whatever Brings You Joy!
I had thought I would never live in a city again, having put in time in both San Francisco and Mexico City, but Amsterdam proved to be the exception. It was quite safe, clean, interesting, and charming. Still, after two years passed, I began to grow restless with being in an urban environment. Short trips to the small charming town of Marken broke up the tension of city living, but it was not enough.
In my neighborhood the building of flats across the street had been torn down, leaving a gaping hole as my view. Small trees had been planted at the edge of the broad sidewalks, but we were, when it came down to it, surrounded by cement. My restlessness with the situation grew to agitation. Coupled with the fact we were in an urban environment was the undeniable fact that we were still, after two years, outsiders. By now Antonia spoke fluent Dutch, but she remained somewhat isolated. Her mother was a foreigner. Our neighbors consisted of born-and-bred Dutchmen and a small number of Turkish families (also tagged as forever being foreigners in the eyes of the locals). We were the Americans.
One afternoon I looked out at the brick and concrete landscape, nearly exasperated, and I suddenly heard a voice in me say, “If you don’t like it, change it. But don’t complain about it anymore.” I was startled to hear this voice, but I recognized instantly that it was the truth of the situation.
I went downstairs and examined the sidewalk. Dutch sidewalks are made of very very large (but not deep) cement blocks manufactured elsewhere and then laid down on sand. What I discovered by poking around is that while they are very heavy, they could be removed. A liberating realization! Standing and staring at the broad sidewalk reaching from the wall of our building to the curb, I suddenly envisioned how convenient it would be to remove the blocks just adjacent to the wall. And, once removed, the exposed earth would create a perfect sized garden plot! Interesting!
I advised my landlord, who lived downstairs, what I intended to do. No protest from him. I enlisted the help of a couple of male friends, and they were able to pry up four of the large cement blocks in front of our building and move them to the area behind our flat (just in case the City Fathers ever wanted them put back). I dug up the sand underneath to a depth of about two feet. Perfect. Antonia and I filled up the hole I had made with fresh earth. I began to purchase flowering plants and gradually filled the earthen area with their living beauty.
And a strange thing happened. Strangers began appearing at the door of my flat. Strangers who had previously shied away from us “foreigners”. Some brought plants. And some shoved money into my hands! I was dumbfounded, amazed and delighted!
Children showed up to help set the plants in the ground. Soon we had our garden! We had made a difference in our neighborhood. Everyone could see and enjoy the beauty. It made my heart burst with joy. The momentum from that single action was so unexpected.
One evening an elderly woman came to the door and told me she lived down the street and that her husband was an invalid who sat inside all day. Watching out the window was one of his main activities. She asked humbly if we would consider coming down to their flat and planting another garden, which we did.
This simple act of the willingness to go against the grain, to step outside the box, to challenge the way things had always been done proved to be a deeply transformational experience for both me and my daughter, and the heartstrings that surrounded this vision and action extended into the hearts and minds and eyes of a neighborhood.
What seeds of joy might you plant that would transform your life and those around you? What commitment would it take? What risk? What courage? What vision have you discounted as impossible? What would you gain by doing something about it and what might you lose by not?
Book News! Just received a lovely tweet from Bookshop Santa Cruz advising me that Plant Whatever Brings You Joy has been added to the Staff Favorite non-fiction shelf!!
If you have enjoyed this story and would be interested in reading more such stories please visit Estrella Catarina. Thank you! Kathryn xoxo
Posted on February 12th, 2011 by Kathryn
Filed under: People at Life