A Garden for Your Thoughts

Yesterday was a full-on gardening day, for my wife. I joined her mid-afternoon after some marking, going for a run, and running some errands.

The work for me began in earnest in “my little garden.” It is a bit of a joke, but many years ago I was given charge over a small bit of soil just outside the office window. My wife takes responsibility for the rest of our rather large yard. I do not recall the provenance of this grave responsibility, but I do admit that I have a consultant who provides me with sound counsel. This year this counsel included pulling out a trumpeter vine, probably as old as the house (just shy of 70), although I do not really know. It is beautiful when it flowers but a bit of a chore when it drops orange trumpets. It is also in constant need of grooming. We have thought about pulling it out some years but have always decided against it in the end. This year it simply did not come back to life, and so it was time to remove the vine, which has over the years grown to be a thick stalk rather like a branch of large tree.

I don’t know why, but whenever I have to pull out a shrub or a tree I am reminded of the book called “Shane” that was read in grade nine. Shane drifts into the community in which the novel is set, and becomes a hired hand at a farm. The young boy of the family takes a liking to him, and I especially remember a bit about Shane working at removing a stubborn stump on the farm. Shane is tenacious and taciturn, mysterious in his refusal to say much about his storied past. I don’t recall much more from the book, but I do recall that scene with its focus on resolve and the teacher using this scene in the book to discuss literary tropes, and what the scene might really be pointing toward. It all comes rushing back whenever I grab an axe, which I needed yesterday.

After I had dug down about 30 inches or so, the stalk was still thick and solid, so I got out the axe and played Shane. The stalk was really a thing of beauty in its own way, gnarled and twisted, bending as needed to make its way in the world. I felt a little bit whimsical in this work, and grateful to the vine for adorning our house over the years. We replaced it with a Dwarf Alberta Spruce, which paired one at the other end of my plot, between which two I planted flowers with solid advice from the resident expert. My wife takes gardening seriously – or perhaps “delightfully” is a better term. When she stops planting and steps back, looking at what she has done, she appears rather like an artist before a canvas. I am basically like a hired-hand in this work, useful for my strong back and capacity to dig out rooted things and to lift in rooting things. I can be tenacious and taciturn at times but I am no Shane, and this blog is no novel. However, there is plenty of novelty at 185 Sheldon, as a garden rages against COVID-19 and preaches a fine sermon for those with ears to hear. I am glad to have a small part in the sermon preparation.

Ephphatha, or God at Bat

Wonder arrests me as it
vests me with eyes
seen by robin, whose
cocked head whips mine
round.
Wisdom unsettles me as
she wrestles me
into a garments of joy:

a toddler twists a word and world
a stalk explodes with a bloom
a preacher weeps the gospel –

finger to ear
spit to tongue:

Be opened.

More Than a Chuckle

Last Thursday night my lovely wife took me to a comedy festival.  It was a fund raising event in support of The Food Bank, where she works.  I’ve never seen stand-up comics live.  It was a fascinating experience, with three different comics.

 

The first comic was from an ethnic minority, and used that as the launching pad for most of his jokes, which were amusing, but not exactly of the belly-laugh variety for this crowd.  The second comic was a local boy, who has since moved to Toronto, and he used the odd experiences of his new found city as the basis for his yuks, which were funny for those of us who have lived in Toronto, or some similarly large city.  The final comic, who is on the rise in the comedy circuits, came on stage in a suit and tie.  He could have been a salesman, or accountant.  His demeanor was disarming, and his style conversational.  His jokes largely revolved around the phenomenon of home improvement.  He pretty much brought the house down.

 

As I listened, I couldn’t help but compare his spiel to a well delivered sermon.  He came across as the kind of guy you would happily meet in a coffee shop.  He engaged the audience, but always respectfully, as he spelled out the laughable optimism of the do it yourself industry and its clients.  In so doing, he read the crowd as carefully as a detective at a crime scene: laughter came in waves, and the head nods that followed the belly laughs confirmed that people like to hear their story told.  They love to have their experiences named for what they are: silly, human, and everyday in nature.  He met us where we were at, but took us beyond ourselves by linking us to one another.

 

Of course, a stand up comic is not a preacher.  Yet it is one of the few public acts that compares to the strange, but compelling act of preaching.  A poorly delivered sermon is as painful as a stand up comic that falls flat, and a well delivered sermon that sings its subject matter draws you in to the point where time stands still and you feel transported – albeit to different places!

 

This comic was mesmerizing, clearly having a rich repertoire ready at hand, pulling out the right joke at the right time. His timing was exquisite: speeding up and slowing down as appropriate; now and then bowing his head into his hand, shaking off the embarrassment that we all have known, that we all know.  Of course, it wasn’t only his head in his hand.  He had us in his hand as well, and seemingly all of us went home refreshed in the knowledge that our foibles are shared and our condition human, and thus fascinating in its ordinariness.  It was a rich evening, and for some reason so much richer than encountering the same on television.  Laughter may be a medicine, but laughing together seems to be a cure.