Recently, I’ve been helping to clean a house that provided a home for an older single man for fifteen years. He was an active and engaged resident, who carefully tended his home, loved his garden, and connected with his neighbours.
COVID-19 shook him, making him anxious about himself and others, so he hunkered down, and his mental and physical health declined over the long period of lockdowns and restrictions. He was adamant he didn’t want to go to a nursing home, but after a fall and becoming unsteady on his feet, that appeared to be his only option. Before arrangements could be made to transfer him to a nursing home, he died. Perhaps he decided his time was up? His death was peaceful. The loss of dignity and individuality which too often follow admission to a nursing home would have distressed him enormously.
My cleaning chore was his garden. In the last few years he’d allowed it to become an impenetrable jungle. Birds, encouraged by the feeding trays he left out, had dropped seeds and there were dozens of small and medium sized trees in a tiny suburban yard. The owner brought in landscapers to clear fell and remove most of the unwanted growth. I arrived to five fully grown trees—a very old, cream frangipani, a large spreading camellia, a Silver Sheen pittosporum with its trunk black and thick, an arrow like pine and something which I can’t identify, but which the local possums love—and bare dirt between them.
The dirt is alive.
Each day another green shoot springs up, valiant and determined and unaware it’s not wanted. I’ve crawled across every square inch of space to individually excavate those green shoots—some of which could become huge trees—and untangle the root mat criss-crossing the yard just below the surface.
I’ve planted some hardy flowering plants, some sturdy ground creepers and mulched and watered to create a welcoming, but not overwhelming, green space. I’ve worked through dappled sun, high winds, spitting rain and body-drenching humidity, and I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.
It’s not dissimilar to writing and editing. Painstaking, cross-checking details, returning multiple times to weed out unnecessary words and elements that distract from the story you want to tell.
The house is ready to welcome new residents. It won’t be a home again until the rooms ring with conversation, tears and laughter, until there’s movement through spaces, jostling to be first in the shower, food prepared and shared, and hugs exchanged.
I hope Grace Under Fire (due March 2023) when I finish weeding—or rather editing—offers the same welcome and respite from the uncertainty of the outside world. Reading a good book can be like coming home.