Life’s Weeds

There are people who like to garden—me. And there are people who are master gardeners. My neighbor, Miss Debbie, is a master gardener or maybe a Garden Grande Dame. I call her Miss Debbie, because she’s my retired eye doctor’s wife, and I call him Dr. Miller. She’s the first lady of my eyeballs so she needs a title too, plus Miss Debbie has a very first lady, “don’t take no shit,” feel about her. She was her husband’s front desk gatekeeper at his optometry practice and very good at her job. If Miss Debbie had been in charge of the door at our nation’s Capitol on January 6, 2021, we’d have never known anyone visited that day, and Miss Debbie would have been wearing someone’s coonskin cap at the dinner table that evening. 

Her keen landscaping vision is apparent. By looking at her front yard, you can see her eye for balance. She has different heights and textures of plants and flowers, areas of her yard are of varying elevations, some areas mounding, some lower. Everything flows into the next with the perfect juxtaposition. She has big rocks strategically placed throughout, and her flowers cling to them and swoon over them like damsels on a fainting couch. Dammit, I never know where to put the rocks. 

She mixes shrubbery with flowers, perennials with annuals, spiky growing things with low roundeth growing things, and it all works so beautifully. Roundeth is my word, don’t look it up. 

I have a perennial bed at the end of my driveway that I sweat hours in every year, and no matter what I do it still mimics a badly laid out charcuterie board or maybe a pizza with all the supreme toppings. Stuff grows everywhere, it grows into areas that it wasn’t supposed to. Plants grow taller than they were planned, throwing shade on my sun-lovers causing them to reach for life and get leggy. Everything in my perennial bed is touch and go, it’s like the ICU out there. In the hot summer, it’s more like hospice care. I’m just trying to give them dignity until they meet their maker in August or miraculously go to seed where I don’t want them to. I have learned perennials like to move themselves. If they reseed themselves, you might as well let them stay where nature puts them because when you try to move them they will drama queen themselves right into emergency hospice and the compost pile. 

The weeds are a constant battle. Years ago when designing the perennial bed I laid down landscaping cloth on top of the ground as weed control. The weeds laughed at it. I now have weeds that grow on top of the landscaping cloth as a big f-you, and I pluck them out by hand as a little f-you back. We do this all summer, the weeds and I. My very sore thigh muscles will tell you. 

But when I walk past Miss Debbie’s yard, there are no weeds. I don’t know why, but I’m guessing they’re a little scared of her.

And I look for them. I look for any evidence of imperfection in that Mrs. Optometrist garden utopia. I am always comparing her flowers, her design, the amount of sun she gets where, to what I’m dealing with over in my messy pizza garden. 

I tell Miss Debbie frequently that I covet her garden. She’ll stop sometimes as she leaves the neighborhood, roll down her window and say hello. I always make her sorry she did so because I get into one of my diatribes about my flower woes and she will finally jump in and say “gotta go!” and I know I did it again. I can’t help myself, I feel like she’s such a vast source of knowledge and artistic mystery that I want to gulp it all down like I do chips and queso on a Friday night. I want her tips, her expertise, her secrets to a beautiful organized, without looking too organized, luscious garden yet I run her off every time like I spooked a deer. People who run other people off, raise your hand here. 

Recently I walked past Miss Debbie’s house to drop something off to another neighbor, and as I strolled back to my house I slowed down. I was taking in her spiky liriope grass, placed perfectly next to her sculpted Japanese boxwood, so sculpted it looks as if it’s wearing a parochial school uniform, starched and pressed. 

She also has a cool mailbox. An ordinary Home Depot mailbox that leans just enough to the right to make you ask yourself if it’s leaning to the right like mine (spoiler alert, it is) would not be acceptable for the Garden Debbie Spectacular. Oh no, she has a cool iron mailbox on a pedestal that reminds me of something you’d see in a bank on Gunsmoke. It looks like you’d need a doorman with a ring of keys to open it for you. My crooked mailbox usually has ants in it. 

I was just barely shuffling past Miss Debbie’s, at a snail’s pace, soaking up all the self-loathing I could for my gardening inadequacies when I saw it… 

A weed. 

There. Peeking out from the shade of that Japanese Boxwood’s pleated skirt was a little green sprout of tremendous insult. It was not even sorry for its presence, like a drunk uncle staggering into the wedding and then loudly protesting to the bride how beautiful she looked during a moment of silence at the altar. How dare him. 

I was in shock at the audacity of this weed. I looked around to see if there was anyone to share in my disbelief. I stood and stared at it for a second and then quickly bent down and snatched it out of the crack between the mulch and the curb much like my future daughter-in-law did when one of my hairs unveiled itself in my cherry cobbler just as I dished up the first serving. She grabbed it as if it never existed, no one saw it, and it was never mentioned again. I knew my future DIL was a keeper long before that hair-in-the-cherry-cobbler incident, but it was just more evidence that she was my people. I’d be worried that my family will never eat my cherry cobbler again after reading this, but they are not one of my four readers. Bully for them. 

I silently plucked out that arrogant weed and finished walking home with the little dead intruder scrunched in the palm of my hand. On arrival I appropriately disposed of the body as any murderer should. I would have thrown it into my garden to scare my weeds, but I didn’t want the other weeds learning from such a skilled invader plus I figured with my luck it would resurrect itself seeing as my garden is a disco ball nightclub for weeds. 

Then I laughed at how offended I was that that weed had the nerve to invade Miss Debbie’s garden and how quick and comfortable I was to grab it. It felt slightly heroic, oddly. Not like I’d stopped a runaway baby carriage heroism, but the I told someone they had spinach in their teeth kind. 

And then I got to thinking how sometimes, we need someone to pluck the proverbial weeds out of our life’s garden too. We all have weeds creeping in from all directions. Beloved brothers get horrible cancer, our friends go through heartbreaking divorces, they lose jobs unfairly or are forced to move to new cities to stay employed, the people we love fall in love with other people sometimes, friends die leaving tremendously grief stricken spouses behind, wouldn’t it be nice if we could pluck those issues out of their lives like weeds that had to go. We’re walking along…Oh, look at that! you need back surgery? Nope. Pluck! And then, as anyone who has ever fed a baby says, “All gone!”

I frequent a little family-owned plant nursery close to my house. They always have really rare and unusual plants. It’s hot as a terrarium in hell, smells like wet dirt, and you actually walk in wet dirt, but I love it. I don’t spend much money there because my discomfort usually wins out before my weakness for buying plants that I don’t need does, and I run with my two items to my air-conditioned car. 

The last time I was there, I left my garden mid-planting and went to grab another couple of plants, toppings, so I could make my super supreme pizza yard look even more pizza-y. I showed up in my gardening shorts that have a hole in the back, right at the top of my booty crack. 

Now to a HOA swim and tennis neighborhood, crooked Home Depot mailbox gal like me, they are an eclectic group of knowledgeable, quinoa-bowl-eating, dirty finger-nailed, very gentle souls who run this nursery. I love their dreadlocks and Scooby-Doo vibe. They’re the kind who carry the spider out of the house on a flip flop made out of recycled baby diapers so the spider can flourish and find himself. They’re going to wear old dirty Birkenstocks to your daughter’s wedding, and look adorable doing it. There’s just nothing to not love about them. 

So as I carried my one item to my car, one of the young female employees followed behind me in silence with my other item. I could feel it. I knew she was staring at the hole in my shorts. 

We load up my items and as I’m closing the back of my car she draws her hands up to her chin, prayerfully and says, “I’m going to tell you something, and please don’t think I’m weird and I hope this doesn’t offend you, but if it were me I’d want someone to tell me.” 

I chuckled. I knew what was coming. 

She bravely delivered the blow. “You have a hole in your shorts.” 

That kind of heroism, again. 

And just for the record, this is about the time Miss Debbie would wave and drive off in my story…

But how many times a day do we get the chance to pick the weed out of someone else’s garden, or tell them they have a hole in their shorts? How many opportunities do we get to show that little momentary tittle of love, caring or kindness. 

Do we pass them up? Do we even see them? 

Sadly, we can’t always pluck the really bad weeds out of each other’s lives. The cancer, the grief, the divorce and dandelion-sized misfortune is delivered on sterling silver trays and only God can flip those trays over onto the floor. 

And maybe since we can’t control these big weeds, God gives us the little ones as His way of letting us help Him. Not that He needs our help, but maybe He gives us the little easy weeds thinking, “Surely they can’t screw this up,” after all, His day is pretty full. 

Anne Lamott writes, “Life is such a mystery that you have to wonder if God drinks a little.” 

And who would blame Him? This world is a tough day at the office. 

So I wonder if we’re given these little weeds along the way, even in the most seemingly perfect gardens, as tiny opportunities to help take care of someone, to support, as an “I got you.” And since God knows we are not perfect or unselfish He offers us a little feeling of heroism to go with it as a reward.

Or maybe we’re given them once in a while because God’s on the couch after a long night of worldly despair and He just needs us to lovingly brush the hair out of each other’s eyes occasionally as He sleeps it off. 

I don’t know, but I can tell you with utmost certainty 187 new weeds have emerged in my garden in the length of time it took you to read this so if any of you are walking by… 

Being Loved Like That

I’m ba-a-a-ck. 

After some major technical issues with my blog website that took some effort to finally get fixed and a few more of life’s obstacles over the last couple of years I’m finally sitting at my keyboard again, and it feels right. Writers know when we’re “off,” we know when we can sit down and it’ll pour out of us, and we also know when our creative pipeline is clogged we might as well sit on a bed of fire ants because that’s as pleasant as the writing experience is going to be. 

And because I think everything happens as it’s supposed to, and when it’s supposed to, I also think I needed these last couple of years to clear out my mind and heart so maybe the website being all kinked up was just the forced hiatus I needed. 

But it’s all working and my brain has been cleaned out and reorganized much like an episode of Hoarders after they send in the hazmat crew. The thoughts can flow now, sentences can form, and lucky you, can once again be privy to my meanderings. 

All four of you. 

And I recently found out my mother isn’t even one of the four. 

Many of you know that I lost a best friend in January. She died suddenly and unexpectedly during a two week battle with the flu. Don’t worry, this is not a blog post about her. I could write an epistle on what she meant to me and many others, but it would fall short so I won’t even try. 

This is also NOT a blog entry about grief. The pain of losing someone who is a huge part of your daily life and who you loved dearly seems unbearable at times. That’s news to no one reading this. Life doesn’t spare any of us. We all face it eventually. Grief isn’t new or rare or even profound. Grief is just grief. 

What I never realized about losing someone you love is this other hidden layer in the middle—like a bad cream filling—I learned how painful it is to lose a person you love, but also a person who loves YOU right.

I never knew there was a distinction with respect to grief, between the two, loving and being loved, until I experienced the loss of it. 

This is about being loved.

This person. You love them so much. You enjoy them. You laugh with them, make years of memories with them. You cry with them when you need it. You call them first to share your child’s engagement news, that your divorce is final, to tell them your funny airport security story or they call you to let you know that the corner vegetable stand finally has decent tomatoes. All that becomes your normal, every day safety routine. You love them, and they do love you. It’s great and everyone should have that. Everyone should have that person. Some lucky folks have several. 

But then there’s those few precious ones who you get in your life, you love them dearly, but they’re different because not only do they love you, but they love you exactly the way you need to be loved. 

They just know how to love you right. 

When you are sad or pissed off and you share it, and you’re sitting in that emotional washtub of cold dirty water they can get in it with you and by the time you are finished with your story they’re just as pissed off as you are—maybe even more. They are your cheerleader, your forehead kisser, your pat on the back person and your make-it-all-better person. Even when they can’t make it all better, they give you the illusion that they can, and for that second it feels like relief. They are that net when you get pushed off the edge, and you know without a doubt when you call them, they are going to say the very words that you need to hear. Every single time they are going to get it, and get you

Because they know how to love you right. 

They’ve paid attention. They’ve seen you vulnerable. They know where your weaknesses are and they protect and coddle them as if they were their own. They don’t secretly hold onto your insecurities so they can use them to wound you later as an act of superiority or to one-up you. They hold little you and your shortcomings in the palm of their giant King Kong hand, cupping you safely. They remind you of your greatness when you’ve forgotten. They shoot confidence into our veins when you have failed. And it all feels true and genuine. It feels umbilical as if they are giving you needed oxygen. 

Because they know how to love you. 

They don’t have a hidden agenda. They don’t just look like they’re your friend, while secretly being resentful or bitter. They are genuinely concerned for your welfare and your emotional state, and your happiness means everything imaginable to them as if it was linked to their own source of life’s energy. Looking into the eyes of someone who knows how to love you is seeing pride looking back at you even on your worst, most worthless day. They make you feel like your greatness was achieved by being born, by existing, and your exhaled breath is keeping them alive. 

Because they know this is how you should be loved. And they know how to do it. 

Not everyone can do this. In fact I’d bet that most people have no clue how to love the people that they have made a life with. I would also bet that a lot of people have sadly navigated their entire life without a person who really knows how to love them. If we’re lucky, we have people who try, and those people should be held onto for dear life and given credit for wanting to love us correctly because “wanting to and trying” are half the battle. We should be grateful for those trying so desperately to love us right, because it’s so much easier not to try. They shouldn’t be given a Participation trophy, but a MVP trophy. They’re there. They’re trying. They’re missing it sometimes but they’re also getting it right as best as they can. They just don’t know how to love us right and it’s not necessarily their fault. 

But here’s the dearness of those people who DO know how to love us right—their little secret—they ultimately teach us how to love ourselves. They show us how we deserve to be loved. They show us that our value is infinite and measureless. Our talents and abilities are unique. Our energy and our place in this world—unmatched and vital. Their appreciation for our existence is not conditional on what we can do for them or how they can benefit from having us in their lives. They just love us correctly because that’s what they were put on this earth to do. 

And when they are done with their mission, when they are sure they have successfully convinced us that we are the most magnificent human being that they always knew we were, they will leave. They will leave us to love ourselves completely. Where there once were holes or frayed bits of our soul needing to be tucked in and patted sweetly, there will now be sturdy seams holding us. Even though they will leave us, they will leave us better than we were because they knew how to love us. 

If grief is the price for being loved like that, I will pay. 


I love Shelly. She always makes you feel like a million bucks!”

–a quote by many