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The Garden of Azrael

Taller than ever, the coleuses in your large urns dwarf the red impatiens planted around them. Their diverse colors, bright and subdued, are an expression of the fecund air that sustains us.

Everything is larger this year than normal and more lush. On the porch steps, petunias drape down from the rims of pots over the concrete risers to the pots below and suggest an overflowing abundance, an overwhelming richness. Everything grows from your efforts, including in the beds where nasturtiums, periwinkle, mixtures of ice plants and begonias front shining hibiscus and ferns, both of which are as high as your hips. Beauty responds to your care.

I wish we could nurture each other as you care for your plants. So that you and I might celebrate our maturity with flowering ideas. So that from within ourselves might sprout the foliage of wisdom. Why shouldn't the aura of our real selves sometimes project itself with a strong enough glow to illuminate what really matters to us, those seeds buried in the thick soil of our youth, our beliefs, shared experiences, the loves we hold dear?

My mother once stopped me from complaining about you. The complaint doesn't matter. It's long forgotten and was trivial, arising from some weakness in myself. I found this out because she spoke to me from the wells of her sorrow, the losses of her brother Ambrose to the Spanish flu, of Richard my brother within days of his birth, of her mother and father, and of her husband my father in his 46th year. Of course much more afflicted her too. She lived through The Depression, suggesting a soul-full of woes, a torrent of sorrow from which these words of hers rose to me: "Hush. Love her while you can. She won't be here forever."

The weather this year has helped your endeavors. Its lengthy wet and warm spring covered the rolling hills around us with ever changing bursts of color. Now, near summer's end, I stand at open windows, enjoying the breeze our fan brings inside from blades whirling in our gable, pulling in through the screens the cool night air that lingers outside. I shiver, goose bumps sprinkle my arms, as I watch you water and admire your devotion.

You touch the earth as if anointing your fingers with dirt. From dust we come, to dust we shall return. You follow steps in such a specific order and intently serious demeanor, you remind me of my altar boy duties (no females on Roman Catholic altars back then). There were never as many as 10 worshippers in attendance at workday summer morning masses when, solitary, I raced to and from the church rain or shine, though Father Krusling had to rescue me once from the bulldog Daisy to get me there. She'd knocked my bicycle over, and I'd trapped my terrified self on a fence's top rail escaping her. I'm not rambling. Didn't a raccoon once, an opossum another time, threaten you in your morning rites? You didn't scream and quit. You screamed and kept on, more steadfast in your obligations than I was, perhaps, in mine.

Obstacles are part of Nature's dynamics. They are what we overcome to do what we need to do, thus magnifying our ritual just as it magnifies us. An innocent altar boy saw himself in union with God both in church and outside because he was taught that Christ was in everything everywhere. You, gardening, must be more aware of your position in the process of giving, maintaining, and taking life, than I was inside a building and the shell of my youth. You personally experience the power and glory. An altar boy experiences it symbolically.

Involving the confluence of life and death, mysteries remain, of course. For more than five months the air has carried a deadly virus. Potentially, the people we live among carry it also. We separate ourselves a safe distance from them, wear a mask, disinfect ourselves and the things we touch. We've come to see danger in everything, everyone, and every place. Angels of death are whispering past, threatening to kill more than the first born of each family. Yet caring for plants, producing beauty from a pandemic, you reveal our position in the circle of being.

Bill Vernon studied English literature, then taught it. Writing is his therapy, along with exercising outdoors and doing international folk dances. His fiction and nonfiction occasionally appear in journals and anthologies, and Five Star Mysteries published his novel 'OLD TOWN'.