Saturday, July 1, 2017


There’s this woman who sometimes shows up in your life dressed in bermudas and a wide-brimmed straw hat. She’s worth paying attention to.

We decided it was time to redo the cloister garden; so last Monday, a man drove in on a little Bobcat tractor with a mechanical shovel on the front, and scraped off a thick layer of grass and weeds, like a giant peeling an orange. It was hard to watch as the machine rudely uprooted familiar hedges and shrubs, every last one, and as the man and his a helper lifted the Blessed Virgin off of her concrete pedestal in the center and leaned her against a wall. From there she presided mutely over the proceedings as her garden was scratched into a big scar of soil, dusty stones, snips of roots and shards of branches bleaching in the June sun.

Our pet cat surveyed the catastrophe from beneath a wheelbarrow, dismayed that his familiar home had suddenly become a desert of dirt, bordered with remnants of weeds, bits of strangled hedges and wisps of wilted grass. I sympathized with the poor animal.

Next afternoon this lady in bermuda shorts and a wide-brimmed straw hat appeared holding a clipboard; she stood in the center of the new wasteland, slowly surveying it with a practiced eye. Watching through a closed window, I became totally engrossed as she pantomimed to the brother monk in charge of the project, drawing expansive sweeps with her arms, carefully pointing to the exact places where phantom flower beds and planters belonged, and slicing with her clipboard the path of slates that lead to the statue of Mary.

For her, this was not a patch of dirt, but a patch of possibilities and promises. I swear, she could see the new garden already spread at her feet, as real as the dirt she stood on. Which is some trick, when you think about it.

Sometimes you stand in the middle of a messy situation, horrified at the hopeless wreck that the man in the Bobcat has wreaked; you even take some pictures of it for the record, with your cellphone. You keep staring, but all you see is a chaos of clods and yanked-up roots, and piles of worn-down slates torn from pathways. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get to see past that scene, but you stand there and hope. But, ah! Sometimes you’re given the eyes of Faith and Hope, and you glimpse a vague shape, a hint of meaning beneath the dried out soil of the disaster. Slowly your arm sweeps in a vague semicircle that might be a flowerbed, or your clipboard slices a line in the air in front of you, that might be a slate walkway. But, face it, most of the time you hang on, waiting in vain for the lady in the straw hat to come.  

Still, sometimes an act of kindness catches you off guard, or a loving look from someone, or a beautiful sunrise grabs your heart, giving you a quick glimpse of a beautiful garden. Which is quite a trick, when you think about it.


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