“Ben, I want to be a gardener.”
“A gardener. And I want you to teach me.”
“Oh,” said Ben, and chuckled.
And so it was.
At first I shadowed Ben, stood behind him and solemnly observed. The first thing I noticed was how little he spoke, how deliberately he moved, and how cumbersome he found it to communicate his thoughts to me. Giving me a task was a sacrifice to him. How could he forsake cradling each and every seed, nestling each one beneath the soil with his own wise fingers, fingers he trusted, fingers in accord with his thoughts.
I was bored standing by with nothing to do, and I much disliked the feeling of not being wanted, but soon the care of those fine, brown, hairy fingers drew my attention as they sowed their seed. My wonder awakened, and I voiced the mystery to which those fingers testified: “That seed is going to be lettuce. That’s just wild, unheard of.”
“Yes,” said Ben, and chuckled.
He showed me how to cover the seeds with soil, not too much to smother them, just enough to shelter them. Then he showed me how to water, just enough so the soil sparkled.
Brittle and bitter winter at last gave way to spring, and the world softened and breathed new life into the gentle, glowing sun. Just when I’d forgotten to hope, Ben entered the kitchen and gave me a look of significant satisfaction, his eyes sparkling with some wonderful secret all of his own; “The seeds are sprouting. I can see them growing just above the soil.”
“Ohh, can I see?”
Solemnly, Ben lifted the white veil that kept the brutal cold out, and there we beheld tender, tiny sprouts, entirely unlike the dry little pebbly seeds I remembered, much more like the lettuce leaves they were growing up to be. Ben pointed out every sprout to me, and I spotted a few he’d missed. Then we came in for dinner, me marveling over the mystery of life, Ben smiling and chuckling his concord.
Tender shoots matured into healthy, tall leaves of lettuce ready for picking. A part of Ben hesitated to cut away what he had nurtured, but at last he realized the necessity and began to pick. We had fresh lettuce for dinner every night.
His full day of work and a long commute tired Ben out and gave him little time in the evening for gardening, so he recruited me to help with the picking. Soon it would be summer, and the hot air would destroy the crisp, sweet lettuce, making it tough and bitter. I nodded rambunctiously and vowed I’d do my very best. Ben’s thanks was taciturn, accompanied by a weary look of annoyance. “He does not trust me,” I thought. “He knows I’m not a gardener.”
What I took to be his mistrust of me was Ben’s own self-disappointment. Finding himself unable to devote himself to his garden saddened and frustrated him; he struggled to let go of his creation. Ben trusted me too well to say so and never suspected that fear of disappointing him stood behind my own impenetrable assurances. He did not realize that he, and not the garden, was the object of my awe, and I was too in awe to say so.
Flowers bloomed, the sun’s heat reached an intensity, days lengthened, and it was summer. Tomatoes blushed, and zucchinis overwhelmed themselves. I loaded my arms with them and gave what I could to my pastor’s meagre but appreciative appetite.
In the evenings, Ben came home and found rest for his weary head, contemplation for his troubled thoughts, among the prickly, papery zucchini leaves and the leathery dry tomato plants. I perceived his peace and felt at peace. He was content with his garden, content with his creation. Other joys, other callings to creativity, had entered his life, and this joy he now loved in itself, not as intrinsic to him, but precisely because it grew all on its own. He did not depend on it and was therefore free to love it. He frequently shared his plans with me and accepted my advice.
For my part, immersing myself in the garden had soon attuned me to the mind of the gardener, and I had come to trust Ben’s trust in me. Moreover, I was learning to differentiate between the creator and his creation, the garden and the gardener. Now I worked in the garden, not for Ben’s sake, but for my own. At last I was a gardener.
Already the days were getting shorter, the sun more gentle, and a breeze rustled the trees—not a summer breeze, but a crisp, cold breeze that told of brittle and brutal, lifeless winter. First there would be fall, and let it be a long one! Ben would plant root vegetables, greens, and lettuce. I would harvest every bit of summer, cut every last zucchini, make green tomato relish, and string up bunches of herbs.
The green beans had nearly ceased flowering, but I still twisted and turned to pick a bag-full. On top of the bean plants grew, what I took to be, a zucchini plant. Why Ben, always so deliberate in his planning, had gone and planted a zucchini plant right in the bean patch rather baffled me, but, patiently lifting its leaves, I groped for the beans.
There, beneath those prickly, papery leaves, I beheld, not the familiar shape of a striped, lazy, green zucchini, but a small white pumpkin, perfectly dimpled and as white as a lily. “How marvelous,” I thought, “he’s grown a pumpkin!”
That evening I congratulated Ben on his pumpkin; “It’s splendid,” I said.
“You mean you didn’t know?”
Ben went out and took a look. Sure enough, it was a pumpkin, just like I’d said, and he’d had nothing to do with it. We smiled fondly at each other. Somehow, this new marvel was all the more marvelous because we’d neither planned nor planted it. And yet, it was our pumpkin. It belonged to our garden.
That pumpkin grows fatter by the day!