It started with food – I love it! And I love preparing it when time and inclination align. I’m what you might call a patschke cook – someone who likes to make dishes that require using a lot of ingredients and making a lot of mess! (Fortunately, most of the time, I’m also a clean-as-you-go cook, for which my family is grateful.) I’ve cooked since I was in the double-digits, but it was only on a family trip to Italy about thirteen years ago that I first discovered the real joy of cooking with homegrown herbs and vegetables from the garden of the house in which we were staying. I was hooked.
I started trying to grow herbs in Baltimore, but because our house was in an area rampant with deer and other hungry creatures, it never took. When we made our move to New Jersey, I started again with two very small beds and a couple of tomato plants. It was fun, and added some magic to our meals. My relationship with my garden really began, however, as a result of a loving email from Sharon, a lifelong friend of my wife, Rachel. Sharon and her husband, Michael, lost their beautiful daughter, Cari, when she was only about 10 years old, about fifteen years before we lost Mitch. Sharon wrote that missing her little girl was always hardest in the spring, when everything is so beautiful and it just feels wrong that she’s not here physically so they could enjoy it together. A friend of Sharon’s offered her the blessed suggestion of taking up gardening, as a means of engaging actively in the creation of life and the very beauty which awoke her longing. As soon as we read the e-mail, I turned to Rachel and said, “That’s it – I want to rip out a couple of the bushes and expand the garden.” Fortunately, my wife is always supportive of my good impulses (and pretty helpful in helping me avoid the bad ones as well.) We did, and expanded to many more tomato vines, peppers, cucumbers, lettuces and….well, lots of beautiful, healthy living things. And every time I’m working with “my babies”, I feel gratitude and connection welling up within me and telling me that indeed I am part of life again. Each morning during season, I go out to the garden, check on everything, turn and face the sun and proclaim the words, “Modeh ani l’fanecha, melech chai v’kayam, she-hechezarta bi nish’mati b’chemlah; rabbah emunatechah! –I give thanks in your presence, Sovereign spirit of life and existence, that my soul is returned to me this day so generously; your steadfastness is huge!” And it is; in my garden, God lives and is present to me in a huge way, inviting me into the circle of life. What a blessing; what a gift – and the fruits of my labor are pretty tasty too!
So, I invite you, dear reader, to ask yourself a key question, I believe, in the search for sh’leimut – for wellness. Where is your garden? Is there something in your life which engages you actively in the expansion of life and which fulfills a creative impulse within you? If not, might such an avenue be open to you, and – in the words of Hillel, “if not now, when?”