Actually it wasn’t just my back that ached, it was across my shoulders, through my hips, down my thighs, and even my knees took it in turns to complain with each step up the stairs. What kind of blessing was this?
This week I’d been challenged, in the midst of all the responsibilities I’m carrying for others, to find something each day to take care of me. So I started with the long neglected task of clearing an autumn’s full of leaves from our garden.
Yes, I know that sounds like just another job to do on top of the others I’m trying to pack in. But I know that gardening does me good. It’s exercise for a start (hence the aches and pains). Being out in the fresh air and daylight (especially in the morning) helps my sleep pattern. There’s a sense of accomplishment of seeing one flowerbed and a good chunk of lawn emerging from their leafy quilt. And I find myself becoming simply absorbed in the rhythm and the task itself, not just distracted from worries and concerns, but mentally relaxed in flow of the activity, a form of active mindfulness if you like.
As I raked and gathered, piled and dumped, I found lessons in the trees’ abandoned detritus.
My neighbour’s tree had deposited its usual consignment of sweet chestnuts in among the fallen foliage. I keep promising myself that one day I will collect them when they’re fresh and transform them into something delicious, or at least edible, in my kitchen. In the meantime, their kernels turn into unwanted seedlings and their needle sharp cases an unsuspected trap for vulnerable fingers as they hid in handfuls of leaves.
After a while, I realised gloves were no defence and that I had to slow down and treat these differently. They needed delicate careful handling if I wanted to avoid puncture wounds from these spiteful globes. I found myself wondering if the same principle needed to be applied to be applied to the prickly and difficult problem (or people) in my life – what if they need to be addressed one at a time and treated with more gentleness?
Then each time I pulled back another pile of brown wet mass, I found myself hopefully searching the ground underneath. Late last summer I planted about 200 spring bulbs. How many had survived the onslaught of the hungry unhibernating squirrels that consider our garden a store cupboard of delights? And with every hopeful green spear thrusting through the surface, I felt a little bubble burst of joy.
Again, I had to work carefully, holding my rake lightly over the ground so that I didn’t damage the young shoots. Some parts of the garden were more fruitful than others, some bulbs further along in their growth than others, one or two bulbs popping right out but happily found and replanted more firmly to give them another chance. No evidence of blooms yet, and some shoots appearing disquietingly fragile, but oh the excitement of hope and promise!
So, as a warm bath and next morning stiffness beckoned, I welcomed the blessing of a painful and aching back. It was a sign of being alive, evidence of a job done, and a reminder of hope to come.