When Nick and I purchased a house, we didn’t realize how much it would teach us about adulthood.
One of our friends seemed to expect it, though. In what now appears to be a prophetic moment, she said, “Getting married is one thing, but buying a house? You guys are real adults now.” I laughed, thinking: Funny, the decision to add mortgage to our laundry list of “payments due” out-adulting the decision of marriage.
But when a few months had passed, and the spring rains came, and the grass started growing, I remembered her words. Because inches and inches of grass later, we realized we had no mower. And a few weeks later, we still had no mower because that was an expense we hadn’t planned for, and we wanted to put it off as long as possible. Then I remembered her words again; we bought a mower.
When the washer upstairs overflowed, and unnatural-in-every-way waterfall mixed with dirt and detergent and grime and–the worst–particles of cat litter all over the linoleum floor, I remembered that, at the apartment, we would just call our front office. Surrounded by swampy carpet, I called my parents instead, hyperventilating and muttering about mold and mildew and what a pain in the you-know-what adulthood is. And I remembered my friend’s words; I took a deep breath (because Mom said I should) as I Googled the crap out of “how to prevent mildew in my carpet” and “why does my washer hate me” and “do tears help prevent mold from growing because if so i’m all set” and used every towel I could find in our house to soak up the mucky water. Lesson learned? Don’t cry over your over-flowing washer, and tears don’t do anything to prevent mold from growing.
Today, I was given some major bummer news. Nothing traumatic or terrifying–just a plain old major bummer: three friends were let go at the school at which I work (an event, I’m told, is another “adulthood” thing I need to get used to UGH). These three wonderful friends became my family of sorts as I’ve dealt with a year of loneliness and adjustment–three friends who have loved me and accepted me and understood me (and laughed both at and with me). I hurt with them, and I felt the vice of worry begin to crush me as I thought about what next academic year would look like.
I started to clean. My kitchen, my bathroom, my room. I cried. I felt guilty, wondering why them and not me? I vacuumed as a sort of “survivor’s guilt” settled and swirled in my stomach. I added coffee to the mix and regretted it.
I called my mom, and we wrestled through my anxiety and guilt and sadness and empathy. When I cleaned all there was to clean, I went downstairs to let the dog out.
When I looked into the backyard, and I saw weeds. EVERYWHERE, weeds. It was like I had never actually looked at my backyard before. In the rocks, all over the grass, in the flower bed. Wild, unwanted, free-growing stupid plants popping up in all the places I don’t want them to, taking away from things I want to grow and flourish.
It’s not as though I didn’t know about them. Weeds have been growing since we moved in. But I’d been averting my eyes, pretending these prickly eyesores weren’t overtaking everything that would be otherwise beautiful. I’ve even pretended some of the weeds weren’t actually weeds. I’ve avoided sitting outside–even though I love being outdoors–because I don’t want to see the mess. I don’t have time to deal with them, I say. Maybe later, I convince myself. Months pass.
Pulling weeds is heavy, dirty, sweaty work. It’s easier to pretend there’s no need, or even that there are no weeds.
You can see where I’m going with this.
These are the most recent adult life lessons I have learned from owning a home with a darned backyard that needs maintaining: (1) weeds grow like crazy if you pretend they do not exist; they become increasingly difficult to uproot the longer you wait, and if you don’t nab them at the roots, they come right back; and (2) beautiful things need room to grow without fear of being entangled, and untangling the beautiful things from the weeds is hard, lifelong, worthwhile work.
I have a new strategy. I’m going to pull weeds when they sprout. When I look outside the sliding glass door, I’m going to see it all for what it is–the pretty and the monstrous–and stop avoiding the hard work of pulling the ugly things up by their roots and throwing them out to make room for beautiful, cultivated things.
And I’m going to do the same when I’m feeling lousy from listening to the lies or when I’m worn down from worry or pain or work. No more pretending that weeds don’t exist. No more pretending I’m fine, or telling myself I’ll deal with it later.
That means no more mindlessly scrolling through Facebook because I’m feeling sad or anxious. That means choosing to pray, to read Scripture, or to journal through my anxiety instead of numbing it with Netflix. That means giving the beautiful things in my life attention and giving them room to grow, not letting the nasty things–the chronic pain, the anxiety, the doubt and fears, the loneliness, the anger, the bitterness–take over my mind or push away the joy, the peace, the truth, the love, the contentment, and the hope that is there, hidden amid giant, prickly thistles. No more avoiding what it takes to heal, even if it makes me sore and tired, or even angry and sad for a time.
Getting the junk out of the way so nourishing and pretty things can grow.
So I will get off the couch, grab my gardening gloves and tools, and pull weeds instead of moping, whining, and wishing them away. I’m beginning to understand why my mother gardens: today, the pulling of weeds felt like I was pulling at the things within myself that needed to be uprooted.
Dirt under my fingernails, sore muscles, but less guilt in my heart, and less weeds in my yard, too.