Following is a special post, an excerpt from my new book Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden. The book is built upon 52 metaphors learned as a gardener over the last two decades or so. Each metaphor is followed by a story from my life or an expanded interpretation of the metaphor. This particular story illustrates the lesson “Stand firmly rooted in the ground.” I hope you will enjoy the story. For more information on where you can secure a copy of the book please visit Estrella Catarina or refer to the list of stores now carrying my book. Thank you!
Love and Christmas blessings,
One particular and potentially strange Christmas, my daughter invited me to go on a cruise with her and her husband and mother-in-law. The details included my actually sharing a small ship’s cabin with her mother-in-law. Quickly ascertaining that our lifestyle differences would make this a potentially uncomfortable situation, I politely declined. What, then, would I do for the holiday?
Sometime during the previous year one of my authors had mailed me a purple t-shirt with the name of a Mexican spa written across the front. Attached was a note telling me I should really go there one day. Maybe now was the day? And thus began one of my stranger holiday adventures.
In spite of the very short leadtime, I managed to book myself into this wonderful Mexican spa. One flies into the largest town nearby and they come for you in a bus and you arrive as a group. Everyone arrives on the same day of the week and everyone stays one week.
To my surprise there was an orientation meeting at 4:00 o’clock the first afternoon, shortly after our arrival. Each guest was given a blank schedule for the week and it was the guest’s task to decide which activities he or she would be participating in throughout the week’s stay. To my amazement I discovered that nearly all of the folks at my dining table that evening had already filled in most of their week’s activities on their schedules!
“What will you be doing?” they asked politely.
“Massage?” I mumbled. There was nothing filled in on my schedule
whatsoever. “I came to rest.”
“Rest?” they said, and rolled their eyes.
It slowly began to dawn on me that the large majority of the folks in attendance that week were from the East Coast, particularly from New York, primarily Jewish, and not really interested in celebrating Christmas. I began to realize they were probably escaping the Christmas brouhaha, and they had, indeed, come to fight the winter blahs and to get in shape! They were on a mission. They were committed!
This was going to be a strange Christmas. I had never before placed myself in a situation where I was marginalized socially at Christmastime.
Nevertheless, I had Christmas to celebrate. I decided to go into town. This in itself is moderately regarded as verboden at this spa. People go there to divest themselves of winter poundage with an ultraclean diet and a visit to town (which was, in fact a humble border town) bore the possibility of “cheating.” The savvy guests even had a term for it. It was apparently called “going over the wall.”
Where was I?
I had lived in Mexico for two years. I spoke fluent Spanish. I had hitchhiked all over half the country alone in my twenties, my daughter was born in Mexico City, and I was going to town. I secured a local taxi in front of the spa and off the driver and I went, into town. On the way I spotted a small decrepit tree lot selling Christmas trees. It was the saddest version of a Christmas tree lot I had ever seen in my life. I asked the driver to stop. Surprised, he did. And he waited as I purchased a small sad tree, the best of the lot, which he cooperatively lugged into the trunk. Undaunted, we continued into town and he told me where I might purchase some decorations. Warming up to the adventure, and doggedly determined to quietly and unobtrusively honor my own traditions I entered a small shop where I purchased some small and enchanting Mexican straw ornaments bound with red and green yarn, and a few handpainted tin figures, with which I was already familiar. And then to my delight I found red chili pepper lights! Wonderful. Coupled with a small string of twinkly multicolored lights, I was set.
My taxi driver returned me to the spa bearing the fruits of my trip into town. I’m sure a few eyebrows raised, but, everyone was basically polite. I dragged my purchases up the long trail to my own lodge and spent the rest of the afternoon putting up the tree, placing it before the window, and then adding the decorations. I kept at it until dinnertime, when I went back down the hill.
As fate would have it, I discovered once night was upon us, that the tree stood in a window lighted almost perfectly central to the entire spa property, up on a hill, shining down on all below. So much for unobtrusive observation. I began to feel slightly uncomfortable. I took some comfort knowing the staff was Catholic and perhaps would find the tree a welcome sight shining down on us below. Still, I felt unusually vulnerable.
As Christmas rapidly approached I was surrounded by guests running to classes all day. To aerobics. To yoga. To pilates. Early morning hikes. I had settled into one yoga class, a facial, and a daily massage. I eventually worked up to one morning hike that led offsite to the gardens where all the organic vegetables we were served at our meals were grown, and a splendid breakfast awaited us. The main gardener in charge was enormously charming and the chef extremely hospitable.
My plans and traditions did not feel complete. What would I be doing Christmas Eve? I went to the office and inquired of the desk clerk about local churches, as uncommon and unlikely as it might seem to be leaving the posh grounds. Yes, there was a main church where there would be midnight mass on Christmas Eve. I was heartened and expressed my interest in attending. Being a service-oriented spa, they offered me a van and driver. (They were probably also worried about liability and bad publicity if something happened to me, I’m certain.) But I was delighted. I would have my Christmas celebration, quietly in town.
To my immense mortification that evening at dinner an announcement was made over an intercom to all the guests dining in the large splendid hall that I was organizing a trip to the local church on Christmas Eve and to please see me for further information. I am not a shy person by any means, but I wanted to crawl under the table. I simply was not used to being in the small minority! Plain and simple. I recognized this as an enormously valuable opportunity to stay true to myself and to stand with dignity and grace for and in my own traditions. I realized that probably many of the people with whom I actually shared that particular Christmas had been subjected to marginalities that would make my own experience seem like nothing at all. I stood in that energy, my consciousness expanding with compassion for myself and those around me.
But I was not done. We needed wine. Didn’t we? I went to the spa chef and told him I had a marvelous recipe for mulled wine. Would he make it if I bought the wine? He would. When guests learned of this they could hardly believe their ears. This simply was not done here. It was that year. I brought the wine. He dolled it up. Many shared it and we had a fine time.
Christmas Eve arrived and I was relieved to see that I was not the only person going to town. About five or six others had come out of the cultural woodwork to accompany me. It was dark when we arrived and the small and humble church was filling up with locals. I took a pew behind an exquisite elderly woman wearing a black lace veil. She turned her head to acknowledge me so graciously that tears welled up quickly in my eyes. How I loved the Mexican people and their innate warmth and charity and non-judgmental welcoming. I was at home. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I took part respectfully in their service, while staying towards the back of the church. My eyes scanned the simple altar and I took heart as I recognized a humble painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe, of whom I am very fond. Her likeness always graces an area near my front door wherever I am living in the form of a handcarved wooden figure from the depths of Nayarit.
This, then, was my special Christmas, one that challenged my perceptions and expectations and all that I take for granted. It became the perfect opportunity to stand firm in the ground in which I am rooted, wherever I might be.
Book News: Thanks to all who greeted me on Sunday at Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Bank! It was a joy to meet you and to sign your books!
Kathryn at Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Bank
Posted on December 9th, 2010 by Kathryn
Filed under: Excerpts from Plant Whatever Brings You Joy