The Garden, a Metaphor for Friendship

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Above: our weed-infested garden last Monday; below, 24 hours later

Walking past our vegetable garden this summer became painful. We tried to ignore it– the overgrown weeds, the rotting kale that had drowned months ago in the unseasonably wet entire month of June. Past the weeds that grew waist-high, past all the failure. Brush it aside, pretend it isn’t there. Pretend you don’t care. There are more important things.

But I did care, apparently. Year after year, we have cared. The process of composting, the waiting and turning and tending, only to add a wheelbarrow full of nutrients to this one small plot of land. The process of overwintering, of protecting hard-earned fertile soil from the elements with leaves or cover crops or both. Then in spring, the hard work of removal and preparing the earth for another crop of vegetables. Then planting, watering, weeding, all summer long. If it were all figured out in a salary, how much time spent on hands and knees, squatting in the hot sun, or how much anguish we feel when cabbage moth caterpillars decimate an entire crop of kale or broccoli, when it all comes down to it, from an outsider’s point of view, we would look like maniacs. Crazy for trying, crazy for putting in the time and effort, the sweat and blisters and scraped up knuckles, cut hands and mosquito-bit legs and arms. For what? A few vegetables that we could easily buy down the road at the grocery store?

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Who knows why it is so satisfying. It just is. It gives me such a basic satisfaction to harvest and see this food grow, to see our boys enjoy a sun-warmed, sweet strawberry straight off the vine. It gives me space in my mind to work out everything — without it, the sun, the soil, the sound of insects and birds and nothing else, I seem to close down and feel more anxious. Crazy, maybe. But it just works.

And this is how I found myself, early Monday morning, with a fire in my soul and a determination to make things right again. As soon as I started sweating out there, weeds tickling my legs, sun beating down on my neck, it dawned on me: gardening as friendship, and its relation to this summer. I’ll skip waxing poetic about gardening as a metaphor for life. Here, it has everything to do with adult friendships. Tend to them, nurture them, do a little here and there. Sometimes it’s all you will need and the plants will do their part and grow. You weed, you water, they grow, they flourish. Other times, things will happen that are far beyond your control. You will loose half a garden through no fault of your own, and you will want to give up on all the rest, to go inside and walk away, take a break and forget it all exists. But the more you ignore it, the more the trouble grows. The weeds choke out some of the healthy plants just because you’re staying away, and before you know it you can’t even see the hardy, strong little plants in there that are working to survive, hell bent on showing you they can make it — that they are there for you, under all the crap, if you just look hard enough. You can’t see them until you clear away all the bad stuff. And put some damn effort into it again.

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I’ve struggled my whole life with female friendships. Ever since I was a girl, I found boys easier to understand, easier to be around, easier to talk to; less drama, I thought. Fewer expectations. If I disappeared for awhile, they didn’t shun me or even ask questions. If I needed space, they didn’t take it personally. They didn’t gossip or say untrue things behind my back, or give me the silent treatment for reasons I couldn’t understand. My guy friends seemed to understand, or at least not be offended by, my strong need for space and independence, my need to disappear every now and then. But those same needs, when applied to my female friends, were disastrous, often ending in hurt feelings and a lot of times, ended friendships. I didn’t get it for the longest time, but I think I get it now — I have come across as indifferent, and maybe at times I was. I had no tolerance for pettiness or drama, and I admit certain situations were such a turn-off to me that it was easy to drop a few friendships because of it, and maybe that was a mistake to move on so easily. But through every stage of my life, I have had a handful of close, truly amazing female friendships. They bring to me something that my friendships with guys don’t: a sisterhood and depth and understanding that is unparalleled. They may not be many, but they are mighty, my female friends. And I think that is why I have so much trouble saying good-bye or being without them — there is an unsaid understanding once you find those people, that they will accept you no matter what, flaws and strange quirks and mood swings and need for space and all. I need these women in my life, I need these friendships to keep me strong and honest. Right now, I need more of these women in my life!

And sometimes, I need to take a chance. Plant something I’ve never planted before, and tend to it like the devil. Give it a chance, and then plant some more.

7 thoughts on “The Garden, a Metaphor for Friendship”
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  1. I felt very much the same way – I always had more guy friends than girl friends, and my circle of girl friends was very small. And those relationships with guys really taper off beyond school and marriages and children. I really, really mourned their loss. I’ve always worked in small offices and I’m much more of a homebody than most, so there were several years where we had a very limited circle of friends (dear as they are), and I was so lonely. I feel like we’ve hit our stride in the past several years, and most of that really happened because we put in the work that you speak of. We’re both transplants here, and we’ve had to really find our community. But just finding them isn’t enough. And when you talk about the work, I just love it. Work is a favorite word of mine – I like to think about doing the work of creativity, of homebuilding, even of play. Especially relationships.

    And I’m always up for a good garden metaphor. 😉

    PS I think there’s a lot of focus on modeling positive relationships (partnerships / marriage) to children in the home, but I think it’s equally important to model positive relationships with adult friends too. I think as adults we think about “stealing” away time to be with girlfriends or the guys, or we get a babysitter and go out to dinner with other couples. But I think it’s a good thing for our kids to see us in comfortable, easy, nurturing relationships with other adults. They have a whole lot of peer group work ahead of them, and as parents we probably hope for strong, supportive friends for our kids as much or more than anything else we wish for them in their teen and college years.

  2. Oh Lauren, I bet if we met in real life, we’d be fast and close friends. (and one of those odd couples, where people are like, “Well, they don’t look like they go together, but seem to have great chemistry!” 😉 I know, how you feel. As an introvert, I’m pretty picky about who I spend time with, and have no time or space for drama, or bs, jealousy, or cattiness. I think you’re a special and lovely person, and need special and lovely folks around you, who get you. Male or female, friends are great!

  3. Milla, I agree! I know I would find you intriguing, and without all the bs you’re right up my alley! I think pettiness and cattiness ruin so many potentially great friendships. Thank you for your kind words, they mean a lot to me!

  4. I feel so similarly. I’ve botched so many friendships with women over the years because I needed more space than they could understand, but it seems to be easier as I get older. Maybe it’s choosing people who are more chill or just that we are all busier, but there’s far less drama in my friendships these days (drama is reserved for family!).

    And my garden is so neglected and sad this year. I hope she’ll forgive me!

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