The week after my husband’s grandmother and our cat died, we started an herb garden. I know how healing it can be to get your hands in some dirt, and it was something that helped me when my father passed. It didn’t matter how down I felt, or where I was in my own grieving process, being around plants helped. I wonder if it’s due to some evolutionary draw to the Earth, or maybe it’s just some subtle reminder that indeed there is life out there. So, when my husband’s first bereavement request was for plants, I got it.
He planted the herbs and strawberry plant, and watered them with care. I love the anticipation of growing something to eat. It reminded me of the one time a random potato plant sprung up in our flower bed in front of our apartment. We spent the whole summer tending to this one potato knowing that one day it was going to be in our bellies. And when it became time to harvest it…MY GOD. It was the best potato I had ever eaten. It had this earthiness of flavor that just doesn’t exist from grocery store potatoes. It was so good it made me question what the hell I had been doing all my life (potato-wise). I just knew that these strawberries would be the same. They would be the fruit to end all fruits.
When, the first berry ripened, we watched it like a hawk. As the top turned from white to bright red, we cleared our calendars. In 24 hours, we would feast upon this one perfect strawberry. The “harvest” day arrived, and he went outside to get pick it. He returned empty-handed. “It’s gone,” he said.
Now when I look back, I laugh at how we reacted. The outrage. The suspicion. The complete feeling of betrayal. “Do you think that new neighbor took it?” Was it an animal? bird? WHO COULD DO SUCH A THING?!” When we came back down to Earth, we realized that it was just one ripe berry. There would be more. However, as each berry would ripen, they would disappear. The moment of absolute peak redness, the fruit would be plucked. This wasn’t just a garden anymore. This was war.
We spent hours Googling bird/squirrel/people deterring strategies. My husband used nails to build some sort of spiked barrier around the plant. We took trips to the hardware store for chicken wire. Do they make electric fences for just one terra cotta pot? Nothing deterred this strawberry bandit. Every time a berry achieved peak ripeness, it disappeared. In resignation I turned to my husband, “Don’t you think this is ironic? Or maybe there’s some sort of lesson here?”
He blinked at me quietly which either meant he was genuinely curious or thought I was completely out of my gourd and was just going to let me talk as a kindness. “Okay, what would that lesson be?”
“Well, we got this plant in memory of your grandmother because it reminded you of her, and here we are trying to hold onto these berries, but they keep being taken…Maybe this plant is trying to teach us how to let go…that when we hold onto impermanent things, we suffer.”
He sighed, “Yeah, or maybe it’s trying to teach us that everything we love will eventually be cruelly stripped from us.”
Hmm. Well, that’s one way to look at it.
Y’all, I had the best intentions. In my imagination, I was going to drop a truth bomb on this whole strawberry/grief problem and we were going to walk away better and more enlightened for it. Instead, I was just clinging to my old patterns being, “Let’s not feel right now, and I’ll put on my pearls and heels and Donna Reed all over this situation.” I’m getting better at this whole “shut up and feel” skill, but I think the strawberries put me over the edge. Old Donna showed up with her vacuum and perfectly pressed shirts, and said, “I got this.”
A few days ago, I went to a yoga class, and the instructor said, “Have you ever worked really hard for something and then something comes along a screws it all up? Have you ever grown strawberries and birds eat them all before you can eat one?” And in that moment I was thinking, “Dang, God, this seems highly specific to my life. You have my ear.” (I know birds eating your strawberries are a very common occurrence and I’m sure this was relatable to a lot of people. Let me have my message from the Universe, okay?) She went on to say that we practice yoga not to be perfect, but to practice starting over, working with what we have, and dealing with the present. We just keep planting the seeds of practice. We learn from our mistakes, and we keep going.
I’m planting my seeds of awareness and practice, but occasionally my old patterns run in and stomp all over my garden. It’s easy for me to get discouraged. In this case, the lesson wasn’t “attachment leads to suffering,” which in retrospect was a shitty outlook and a shitty thing to say even if you are a super-Buddhist and believe that it’s true. My husband was right. Things we love do get stripped from us: plans, progress, and people. But the lesson wasn’t for him. It was for me.