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Lois Vidaver: Gardens help lift our sagging spirits

Gardening brings peace to my soul, as it certainly did 15 years ago. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the world changed, and I remember where I watched the drama unfold. Walking through the lounge at the former United Church Home for the elderly where I worked, I watched a plane hit a World Trade Center tower on the TV. Stunned, I stared at the screen. Was this an accident?

Soon, it became clear it was not. I heard comments like, “Isn’t that terrible?” “Can’t believe it.” It was about all the seniors said. For the most part, they were unperturbed.

Except for Mr. Morrison, our World War II veteran. He unexpectedly moved his desk chair and set it in the doorway of his room.

“I’m waiting for my orders,” he stated, refusing to move from the spot. He sat there for hours.

A nurse’s aide came by at noon. “It’s time for lunch,” she coaxed. Eyes downcast, Mr. Morrison repeated his mantra: “Waiting for my orders.” The administrator was summoned. Placing her hand on his shoulder, she said softly, “Mr. Morrison, when orders are issued, you’ll be the first to know.” Slowly digesting this information, he nodded, pushed himself off the chair and marched down the hall, every bit looking like the Marine he had been.

Meanwhile, I sat at my desk in a confused daze. How to center myself? I breathed deeply, first in, then out. Think of a good memory, quickly, I told myself. It was the only way I knew to calm the inner turmoil. Yesterday. What was I doing yesterday? Images came to my mind.

The day before, Sue and I had been down on our knees in the home’s newly designed garden, digging holes and tucking in daffodil bulbs. Sue was a volunteer dedicated to provide beauty for those in the home who had Alzheimer’s disease. They could see the garden from their bedroom windows on the second floor. I remembered that Sam, a resident, was watching and waved at us. We waved back.

That was such a good day, nurturing new life and looking forward to its birth. For a moment, the memories took my mind off of the horror.

Sue came twice a week in late afternoon to water, prune and fuss. I joined her after work hours. We tried to be on-target with the plan for the day but, as gardeners are wont to do, became distracted. Looking around at the many blooming plants, she would invariably spot still another project.

“Let’s move this over there,” she proposed, indicating a red bud plant that had already put roots deep into the earth. “It will look good against the fence.” Oh, well, dig we must. But I loved the fact that this project was so important to her. I jokingly told her, “Sue, I admire you. I would go to the ends of this garden with you.” She grinned, rolled her eyes and continued digging.

Remembering that scene, tears filled my eyes, although a sense of calm began to return. What do we know after such a horrendous act? We know that spring will come back next year, the daffodils will burst forth from a cold, dead earth and life will flow again with newness and vitality. Gardens do that. They revive our spirits and bring joy and the sweetness back into our lives. It’s the promise of tomorrow when today looks very, very bleak.

I couldn’t wait until Sue and I were back on our knees again in the garden. She would agree: There is always life after death. It just takes patience and time.

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