Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Holding on and watering our gardens

Recently, a friend of mine told me about an essay which Alice Walker (the author of The Color Purple) wrote.  He thought of me largely because of quilts and gardens.  Yet, as so often happens, when I read it I see something which applies to life in general and to the live of someone living with Stage IV cancer in particular.

In her essay, "In Search of our Mother's Gardens: The Creativity of Black women in the South (1974), Ms. Walker writes this:

Like Mem, a character in The Third Life of Grange Copeland, my mother adorned with flowers whatever shabby house we were forced to live in. And not just your typical straggly country stand of zinnias, either. She planted ambitious gardens - and still does - with over 50 different varieties of plants that bloom profusely from early March until late November. Before she left home for the fields, she watered her flowers, chopped up the grass, and laid out new beds. When she returned from the fields she might divide clumps of bulbs, dig a cold pit, uproot and replant roses, or prune branches from her taller bushes or trees - until it was too dark to see.
Whatever she planted grew as if by magic, and her fame as a grower of flowers spread over three counties. Because of her creativity with her flowers, even my memories of poverty are seen through a screen of blooms - sunflowers, petunias, roses, dahlias, forsythia, spirea, delphiniums, verbena . . . and on and on.
And I remember people coming to my mother's yard to be given cuttings from her flowers; I hear again the praise showered on her because whatever rocky soil she landed on, she turned into a garden. A garden so brilliant with colors, so original in its design, so magnificent with life and creativity, that to this day people drive by our house in Georgia - perfect strangers and imperfect strangers - and ask to stand or walk among my mother's art.
I notice that it is only when my mother is working in her flowers that she is radiant, almost to the point of being invisible except as Creator: hand and eye. She is involved in work her soul must have. Ordering the universe in the image of her personal conception of Beauty.
Her face, as she prepares the Art that is her gift, is a legacy of respect she leaves to me, for all that illuminates and cherishes life. She had handed down respect for the possibilities - and the will to grasp them.

I know that Ms. Walker is writing about the particular trials and struggles of black women living in the south, but I would offer that in many cases the same could be said about other struggles which are peculiar to the human form.  In particular, what she writes resonates with me as I struggle through cancer and the general lack of understanding what it means and the knowledge that my body is slowly failing me as I fight my own cells gone awry with toxic drugs.  

We all have to have respect for the possibilities, and tend our gardens passing on what we can...sharing and giving...no matter if our "garden" is the ability to make good meals,  paint a picture, frame a house, or write a letter.  We all have burdens and struggles, but there is so much more than that.   We are so much more than that.

I would encourage you to read the whole essay as it appeared in Ms. Magazine in Spring of 2002.  Here's the link
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