A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Guilt Free, At Last

by Anne Kerrigan

by Anne Kerrigan

“ What a man needs in gardening is a cast-iron back, with a hinge on it.” - Charles Dudley Warren, 1829-1900. American essayist, friend of Mark Twain. - My Summer in a Garden, 1871.

My husband and I grew up in the Bronx, a northern borough of New York City. In our Kingsbridge section of the city, there were few trees, hardly any lawns, and even fewer flowers. It was mostly bricks, stones, concrete and asphalt. We loved it. There were a zillion city games which allowed us free rein of the streets and sidewalks. There were few cars, no lawns to trample, and no flowers to avoid. It was such fun to play in the city streets!

When we moved to Long Island as a young married couple, we lived in a new development which had some greenery, a few small saplings, and some evergreen shrubs. It was a unique environment for us. We had never been exposed to such an “expanse” of nature, and our little quarter of an acre lot seemed huge. We were happy with our few shrubs, and we just worked at maintaining a lawn, mainly because that’s all we were able to figure out how to do. Even weeds were fine with us because they were green, and we barely recognized a weed anyway.

But, as the years went on, the shrubs and saplings grew, and flowers started to appear. It seemed that many of the neighbours had taken to gardening. I had absolutely no interest in gardening. Why would I want to garden when the essayist reminds me that I would need a “cast-iron back?” No thanks. Occasional watering could not keep my potted plants alive too long, never mind outdoor plants and flowers. My plants continually gasped for water until they finally wilted away and died. Furthermore, I could barely tell one flower from another, nor did I care to learn. Flowers and plants were lovely to look at, but one glance was all I needed. I found it almost impossible to maintain life in anything green or floral, and I still find it a daunting task. I have the proverbial “brown” thumb. china-asters

In spite of my lack of interest in flowers, plants or gardening, I very often feel guilty for not being interested in the floral beautification of a suburban home. I am well aware that each person has specific gifts and talents, and I accept that my gifts are not in the area of plant life. So, why should I feel guilty? I don’t know. Maybe it is my scrupulosity at work again. Or, perhaps at some sub-conscience level, I wish I did have a green thumb. Then again, my neighbours actually contribute to my guilt.

My next door neighbour, a dear friend, has a very, very green thumb. Her front yard looks like a lovely English garden, and her back yard looks like a living Monet. I love it, but it just exacerbates my guilt. My neighbour across the street, another dear friend, weeds, waters, trims and prunes all the time, and her garden flourishes. More guilt.

But, now I am finally guilt free.

I received a diagnosis of breast cancer in April, 2014. The subsequent lumpectomy, with the removal of two lymph nodes, calls for using much caution when gardening in order to avoid potential lymphedema. That does it for me. Even though I never was a gardener, I am now guilt free of the thought that I should be one. I don’t want to expose myself to even the possibility of lymphedema. My Mom always said that every cloud has a silver lining. My silver lining is that I am now able to gaze at my neighbours’ beautiful gardens without guilt. It is amazing how much more lovely they are now.

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