Saturday, June 16, 2012

Planting Hope

I used to have a problem planting seeds: I felt I was burying them. They'd never come up. Welcome to PTSD: no hope, no future, no sense of a world to come.

My grandmother never had this problem; she was an amazing gardener. I lived with her in my early twenties. We moved from the Boston area to upstate NY, she to retire and garden, me to escape the suburbs with my horse and goats-- and also to escape the fallout (which we never talked about) of the untreated childhood bone disease I'd survived as a Christian Scientist.
Though she was in her seventies, my grandmother grew a lush vegetable garden and canned and froze her produce, as well as picking fruit at local farms to preserve. Her flower beds featured lavender and purple irises. At twenty-one, I shook my head at her faith. How could she be sure these plants would grow from seeds stuck in the ground? From roots buried in soil?

Married, I planted tomatoes and forsythia bushes and marveled that they grew. How was this possible? In my late twenties I got pregnant, the greatest gesture of faith in the future I could imagine. I canned tomatoes that year with a friend whose mothering and homesteading knowledge went far beyond my sight. When we canned applesauce she said, "You 'll feed this to your baby next year." 

I nodded, terrified for a future I couldn't visualize, a future I was afraid I didn't deserve.

Still, my baby came along anyway. The next year I fed her applesauce. A few years later I glimpsed enough grim future to leave my husband and find a better life. My new home's lilac bushes burst into sweet-smelling lavender blooms in the spring. The bushes stood beside a crumbling foundation, an old farm site; the lilacs had been planted generations ago. What an act of hope.

That faith in the continuity of life inspired me. I planted daffodil bulbs. I was seduced by the Breck's catalog ("flower porn," I've come to call it) and fell hard for the double daffodils, the jonquils, and the Narcissus...I planted bulbed every year. Deer don't eat daffodils. The flowers bloomed, multiplied, and bloomed some more. I began to look forward to the cycle. My daughter and I grew a vegetable garden. Now planting seeds didn't feel so futile.

I married again, and the pregnancy of my second daughter was joyous. Hopeful.  
There was (is) a future. I was surprised every year. But every year I planted more. I found I could imagine a year ahead. Maybe not much more...but I could imagine a future.

When I moved across the road into yet another life, I started again planting water irises at the edge of my new pond from shoots my mother gave me. And lilacs. And double daffodils. My two girls are growing into young women. It amazes me. I'm able to say, "Next year--" when I plan, or when I fall short of this year's goals, or when I riff on a wild hope.

Hope grows. We had my grandmother's headstone etched with irises. But her impression on me cut deeper; it cut through my trauma. She taught me, "Plant. It will grow." I do: I'm putting up a deer-proof fence; this fall, I'll plant...tulips.


  1. From the time I was in middle school, I planted things without every expecting to live to see them come up. They were my legacy, would live on without me, beyond me. It was also somehow like answering the questions from grown-ups, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I said what I wanted to be, but with no expectation of actually arriving. I don't know why I wasn't a slacker; I was driven to ace tests, but each test was its own goal, a tiny thing directly in front of me that distracted me from the expanse of nothingness afterwards. Turning 25 was the first time I remember... not glimpsing a future, not at first, but a few days after my birthday, I thought, "I'm 25. I wasn't supposed to live this long." And that left the door open for, "Hey, I might live to 30." Which absolutely scared the crap out of me. It took a couple of weeks for the terror to fade, and I don't know whether it faded before or after I thought, "I'm going to learn to swim." It was never worth facing the fear of drowning when I wasn't going to be around long enough to enjoy it. It took me 5 weeks of an 8-week course at the Y before something clicked and I stopped inhaling when my face went underwater. 5 miserable weeks of incessant failure. There was a group of senior citizens doing water aerobics in the other half of the pool, and after the third time of not inhaling, I looked over at them and I thought, that could be me in 40 years. I might live that long. It scared me less than 30.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing, and for reminding me of that.

    1. Beautifully put. I think too many people have no idea what it's like to always live in the moment--to kiss someone you love goodbye in the morning wondering if you'll ever see them again--to not plan too far into the future because it might cause the worst to happen. Maybe the trick is to teach yourself to hope however you can & still hold that preciousness of this instant, now.

      Thanks so much for sharing this violetcheetah.