“Trees and animals have no problem. God makes them what they are without consulting them, and they are perfectly satisfied. With us it is different… We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face. But we cannot make these choices with impunity. Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them. If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it.”
— New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton
A low of 37 degrees was predicted for Monday night. It was the first threat of frost, and I faced the challenge of saving what was not yet fully ripened in my garden. Every fall, it’s the same. I try to squeeze out as much produce as possible from a season of labor, with a limited amount of garden-friendly time.
As I thought about what tarps and sheets I had available to protect my plants, to keep them alive and allow them to continue growing, I wished that it was this easy to protect everyone I love this way. To keep the cold-freeze, the bitter comment, the angry look away. To wall away those things that stop a person in their tracks and make them ashamed of who they are and afraid to dream, afraid to put themselves out there.
Last Saturday was spent blanching and freezing what I believe is the last of my green beans. I cut up zucchini and tomatoes from my garden, plus mushrooms, potatoes, and onions to wrap in olive-oil-coated-foil to heat on the grill. I prepared cous cous to go with the vegetables. And chopped up the remaining vegetable odds and ends for chicken treats. Then I baked an acorn squash, which had fallen off the vine in a storm, and seasoned it with a bit of salt, pepper, and brown sugar to have for desert.
While I worked on these kitchen tasks, Steve carried on his own mission of turning sixteen garden tomatoes and fresh basil into jars of canned spaghetti sauce. On Sunday, Steve continued with canning and made a couple jars of pickles and a brandy, dried-fruit ice cream topping, while I goofed off trail riding with my friends.
As Steve and I worked in the kitchen, memories of my childhands slowly and methodically cutting carrots and celery for my mother came back to me — chop (move knife) chop (move knife) chop (move knife). I pursed my lips and knitted my eyebrows with concentration, not wanting the slices to be too thick or too thin. I also remember holding a large wooden spoon tightly in one, sometimes two, hands as I stirred ingredients together. Unfortunately, the childhood joy of helping and creating was usually interrupted by a heavy sigh that lifted my hair off my shoulders and sent a chill through an oven-warmed room.
“Give me that! We’ll never get done at this rate.” And the spoon was pulled out of my hand in mid-stir. Or “That’s not the way you do it! Let me finish cutting before you hurt yourself.” This was followed by a rapid fire chop-chop-chop-chop-chop, which I watched with the shame of failure.
I could never do it right or fast enough. I became used to having things grabbed out of my hands because I hadn’t made the right choice, not just in cooking, but in making a bed, washing the floor, even raking leaves. I soon stopped offering to help, to my mother’s relief. I knew myself as clumsy, inept, and useless. I developed a cooking phobia, afraid to cook for anyone but myself and became known as the girl that couldn’t cook.
When Steve and I were camping, there were times where I wanted to ask, “Is this where I should put these?” before I set the chairs around the campfire or placed our things in the tent. I’m often tempted to stand back and do nothing. To wait for direction or for someone to do whatever it is I’m not sure of, so I can see how people who know, people who do, competent people, carry these simple tasks out. Then I will know next time the need arises. But what if the next time the person wants it done differently? I’ve noticed, people have their own ways and any other way is simply not right.
Most of the time now, I push past those voices, the looks, and the gestures I catch out of the corner of my eye-memory. Those shadows are so close, the humiliation fresh as cow pies, that it hasn’t been easy to pull out the cutting board again and risk making a mistake.
But I’m around kinder people now. I haven’t been corrected for a very long time and even when I am, it’s a suggestion, not a right or wrong deal. And there is now a “Maery way” of doing things and a “Maery way” of being. It’s a touch and feel and taste way of going through life that suits me just fine.
I don’t bring up these memories because I’m stuck blaming my hangups on the past. It’s generally a surprise to me when I make these connections. It’s an “ooohhh” moment when I better understand where a confusing fear comes from. It helps to have that knowledge so I can tell myself that I’m a big girl now. I know how to protect my garden from the frost and my spirit from the nasties.
And I know how to ride out whatever else is weighing on my mind.