It was only a month and three days between the Las Vegas massacre and the Texas Baptist Church massacre. My favorite uncle was a Baptist, a plumbing contractor from Gainesville Florida who lost his shirt in two different Florida building booms. But he always bounced back and he never missed a Sunday, my cousins became preachers and choir directors, anti-racists early on. My uncle died years before this present day massacring began. But when the insane man shot up the Texas Baptist Church, I kept thinking: What if Uncle Mac had been there, sitting in his pew trying to pray instead of worrying over some asshole condo developer who had declared bankruptcy and left him devastated. Then out of nowhere, comes a maniac and my uncle throws himself over Aunt Glenda and the kids, trying to spread his whole body wide enough to shelter them all. When I wake up thinking about things like this, it’s hard to get out of bed. But bed can be quicksand.
Back at the start of the summer, I was lying in bed one morning, sinking and sinking over the growing threat of nuclear war, when it occurred to me I should go work in the garden. I did this because I remembered the anagram, GOD, Go Out Doors. And because there’s supposed to be stuff in soil that gets absorbed through your skin and works like antidepressants.
Bad gardener that I am, the garden had gone to weeds in early spring and they were about 8 feet tall and prickly and snagally. I needed a machete to get to my so-called tomato bed. The machete had been given to my first husband by my poor father – a man’s man, awash in daughters. I remember the look on the face of my gentle, piano-major spouse, when my Dad presented him with a two-foot knife as a wedding present.
But I liked it for the garden. Perhaps this is an indulgence of everything I fear and dispise, but there is something deeply satisfying about decapitating a weed. Especially the sapling-sized monsters that overran my garden last spring. Back in the 60’s therapists were always trying to get me to punch pillows to eleviate stress, which never worked a bit. But going at these plants was like valium (plus not addictive and better exercise.)
I remember, years ago, digging a grave in the hard clay of North Carolina in the high heat of July. It was to receive the ashes of J’s daughter who had been murdered by a friend (the sweetest guy/like a little brother to her) who suffered a psychotic break. J is my friend with Alzheimers and it’s gotten so bad she doesn’t remember that this happened which is a full-on benefit as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, that day J’s husband and I, both of us raw from the murder less than a week before, were out in the blistering heat, hacking at the sun-baked clay. And we were so grateful to have something unyielding to bash away at. It has been a little like that with the weeds in my garden which I have continued to hack away at all summer and into the fall as international dangers and gun violence have escalated. Through it all, I am grateful for the weeds, and the fact that I have my machete, and am fit enough to wield it. Doing this violence with every ounce of my strength seems to drain away some of the pain and fear that grows tight in me like a boil. Could violence be a necessary first step towards peace? I am noticing that after even 1/2 hour of weed murder, something lifts and I can suddenly see in the radiant sky above me, a jewel-ish hummingbird, hovering, scoping out flowers.
From violence – peace and beauty? I don’t even begin to know how to think about that. But it’s good to know that sheer physicality is a powerful soother. The swinging of the machete, the falling of the weeds is it’s own meditation that restores my ability to do the hard thoughtful work of standing up against horrors. With apologies to gentler souls, sometimes I need a machete to hack my way back to the place where I can be healed by gentler medicines such as the beauty of nature and the look of 34-year-old love in my husband’s smile as he watches me walk up from the garden.
Here is another anagram to go with GOD, Go Out Doors. It’s BAM, Bring A Machete. GodBam right! Godspeed to us all.
Originally posted 2017-11-13 19:18:11.