Garden in the East


I’ve been working on the new book this past few months. It’s going well. I think that’s what I’m supposed to say, by default, whenever someone asks, and so that is what I say. If they press further, I might mention the potholes, the detours or the time wasted at the truck stops because the road to finishing this book has been, at times, no damn fun. Writing books is not always fun.

Even so, I’m almost there. Garden in the East– The Spiritual Life of the Body is on its way, soon, to my editor and will present itself in full form in the middle of next year. It’s exciting to see the image of this new thing emerge from the block of marble that is the blank page. I hope it is beautiful. I hope it is good.

In any case, I was re-reading a chapter today, fine tuning, shaking it out a little and I came across this excerpt that describes the first time I threw my back out. The chapter is foundational to this book about how we view and care for the body– physically, emotionally and spiritually. I thought I’d go ahead and give a sampling of what’s coming out of this here marble slab these days, in case you’re into that sort of thing.

Once while vacuuming I threw my back out. Something twinged and then a shooting pain ran down either side of my lower spine deep into my hips. I could not move. I had four small children. It was the middle of the day. I made my way to the floor, instructed my daughter to turn off the vacuum cleaner and then give me the phone. When I told my husband that I needed him to leave his meeting and come home, right now, he was confused. I’d never had a complaint about my back in my life. I was still awfully young for “back trouble” and there was no immediate cause apart from vacuuming. When he came home and saw me weeping on the family room carpet he remembered his back issues and the pain that comes with them and set to work to get the kids in line and me to the doctor.

There was no “reason” for my back to go out, no injury, no inherent trouble with the spine or congenital defect as there is in my husband’s case of spondylolisthesis, which is a slipping of the vertebrae. I was home full time then, working out as often as I could, but not eating or sleeping as well as I ought to have been. Even so, I was in relatively decent shape for my tender mid to late thirties. The best my doctor could offer is that in addition to carrying children around or bending over picking things up off the ground all day, I was stressed out and that most likely I carried my stress in my lower back. I was parenting and vacuuming and worried and one thing led to another until the twinge and pain came along. After a massage, a lot of Advil and some rest, my back pain subsided and I made a silent pact to pay better attention to my stress.

Pain is a signal. My body was telling me something.  Slow down. Pay attention. Breathe. Overly tight muscles cannot do what they’re made to do. I’d felt those twinges, tiny, shoots of pain here and there. I’d ignored it and kept going until at last the muscles shut it down to reboot.

All things work together for the good.  When one part of the body is suffering other areas will rally to help support that part. Weak core muscles will gain some support from the lower back. They kick in to keep us upright even in the light of that core weakness. Over time those muscles, doing their job and that of the core will begin to grow over worked and then before you know it you’re laying on the shag carpet, weeping in pain while your six month old son throws plastic blocks at your head from his bouncy chair.


rosemary and time…


Last year in the Spring I spent a great deal of time digging up the back yard of our house in Nashville. I’d decided that I would finally give gardening a try. Knowing little, knowing nothing and having only Google and the kindness of green thumb friends I dug up my yard; around the porch, near the fence, in the bare spots and the balding patches. I convinced the lawn guy to cut down a diseased shrub one day and spent the rest of the weekend pulling up the stump. It was therapy, deeply intensive therapy.

When the empty spot was finally tilled and filled with dirt I sat down on the porch to survey my work. I wanted a rosemary bush there. I found two rather large bushes sitting outside our local grocery store in the heat of the Spring day. They were strong and woody, ready for room to expand, ready for a place to lift their branches and reach to the skies.

They did very well over the course of the summer in that house. They did lift their branches to the skies. They did expand. In the mornings I would wander outside with my coffee and offer them water, rub their leaves so that I could remember throughout the day the simple fact that I’d done this. Rosemary means remembrance.

We moved away from that house in early September, up to the windy city of Chicago, into a loft style apartment on the second floor. No yard. No garden. No dirt.

This past week I finally remedied that, buying a topiary of rosemary for my deck. I had not realized how much I missed that early morning greeting, the moment of quiet on the porch, the wind whispering through the leaves, clothing itself with the perfume of rosemary, of remembrance.