My mom and dad are starting on their garden. They have these two big plots of ground in Virginia, and in them they grow onions and garlic, leeks, tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, squash, beans, peas, and on and on. Last summer, they put up enough green beans that we’re all (and by “all” I mean ALL) still working our way through them. They lay out piles of produce at church only to have them disappear in moments with people sometimes even squabbling over the cucumbers. They truly have a garden of plenty.
Last week, Mom planted the seedlings, and I get almost daily reports about their progress. Apparently, these are some mighty little plants – the Roma tomatoes are up and moving as are lettuces and such. . . the bounty has begun. Dad is in process of building a hoop-frame greenhouse, and soon all the plants will move there to warm up until the ground does the same.
I try to go down as often as I can (but not often enough) to help out. I just love the feel of my hands in the dirt, and honestly, there’s a great cathartic release that comes from weed-pulling. Plus, coming home with bags of black eyed peas doesn’t hurt either.
Then there’s the beauty of things my parents make with their hands- quilts and crocheted layettes, beautiful tables sanded from the natural shapes of reclaimed woods. They spend some of their days and evenings crafting their love for people and natural things into these unique pieces that speak something of them and of the God that made them.
There is something truly more beautiful to me about handmade things. I believe that there is a spirit to them that does not exist in shirts cut and stitched by metal and computers. Perhaps something of the maker goes into them – some prayer, some hope.
For me, the making of things – whether it will be the few bean plants Kathy and I will try in our backyard or the crocheted shawls that I pray over as I stitch – almost feels better than anything else I do. Only writing or teaching in those moments when I slip into the deepest part of my self and speak with utter honesty can top it. But for a day to day activity that I do with my whole self and not just my mind, working with my hands gives me sheer joy. I love watching stitches work together into a blanket or a cross-stitched carousel. I love having control over something that is in my hands, so small but so true. And I love the deepest lack of control that I have in these things too – the way a late frost can burn back newly sprouting carrots. There are things within my grasp and beyond; nothing reminds me of that better than handwork.
Perhaps there’s also one more thing to this idea of the handmade, and it’s this – when I crochet a scarf and mess up, I can pull out the stitches, even the whole thing, and start again. When I plant coriander seeds, I can push the tiny speck into the dust and then put water on it, but if it doesn’t grow, there are twenty more that will. There is hope in this work, more hope than in anything I do that requires other people. As beautiful as they are, other people cannot be started over; as much as we might forgive, truly and deeply, we are creatures of memory who carry pain if not consciously then unconsciously in the very cells of our bodies. Yarn, cilantro, thread – these are items beyond memory. Ultimately, they cannot help but forgive.
– from Wendy Usually Wanders