Playing in the Dirt: It’s Good Therapy

Posted on May 15, 2011


Saturday evening I played in the dirt. More precisely, I dug Bermuda grass and weeds from a couple of small sections of my flower gardens. IMG_2782 It was just the therapy I needed to deal with a bad case of melancholy that had set in earlier in the day. The simple act of pulling weeds and planting flowers reminded me of someone who created so much beauty in spite of her circumstances.

I didn’t sleep well Friday night. I’d planned to get up early, around 6, to get in a nice long run to start my day off right. When the alarm went off, I wasn’t feeling it. But I had to get up soon anyway and head to campus for commencement activities. I was in a less-than-jubilant mood because I knew it would be uncomfortable for me to sit quietly for several hours after a night of tossing-and-turning and no exercise.

I tried making French toast as a breakfast treat. It stuck to the skillet. Although the French toast tasted perfectly fine, I left the house at 8 am weighted down by a too-large breakfast, no exercise, and dirty dishes soaking in the sink. And my hair looked horrible.

Commencement didn’t begin until 10 but I wanted to be on campus early enough to get a parking spot that would enable a quick-exit. I was able to finalize some grading before a colleague and I donned our rented regalia and made out way to the faculty line-up at 9:35 a.m. (Aside: Academic regalia is very expensive to buy–AND to rent. Putting on the rented regalia reminded me that I’d essentially thrown away $38, again. It adds–up I’ve spent over $225 on rented regalia in the past 16 months. But I don’t have the extra $500 or so needed to purchase my own.)

We walked out of the commencement ceremony at 11:59 a.m., precisely. I checked my phone as we made our way into the fresh, cool air. It took a few minutes to walk across campus to return the rented regalia, pick up a few things from my office and walk down the hill to my car, positioned near the campus exit.

Despite my relatively large breakfast, I was too hungry to run when I arrived home at 1 p.m. I decided to make a blue cheese burger from what was left of a pack of White Oak Pastures ground beef. Rather than having bread with the burger, I opted to roast some diced potatoes and have those with vinegar and sea salt. At that point, I was thinking run at 4 p.m. Spent a bit of time checking social media feeds. It seemed that all my friends and acquaintances were spending their day doing fun things.

The heavy lunch, combined with several hours of sitting and poor sleep, left me extremely lethargic. I tried some house-cleaning, put on a load of laundry. All I could think about, though, was what I missing Saturday (or would soon be missing). Lots of friends out shopping. Lots of people downtown for Birmingham’s music festival, Secret Stages. The Go-Go’s are touring this summer all over the US and Saturday morning they announced a new date. My extended network of Go-Go’s friends have bought tickets and are planning extensive tour-vacations. Not me. None of the shows are in my part of the country, though, and my budget just can’t support hopping on planes to fly to the Northeast, Pacific Northwest or West Coast. I’m back in the classroom when they finally make it to Texas in late August, so those shows are out, too. My mind and emotions were focused on what I don’t have and mostly can’t afford. My mood got darker and darker.

At 2 p.m., I decided to take a nap. I must have needed it because I was mostly “out” for nearly 2 hours. Downside is that I was just as lethargic at 4 p.m. as I was at 2. And my mood was no better, because I was annoyed that I’d wasted 2 hours rather than 45 minutes.

I made coffee and walked around my yard trying to distract myself and wake up enough to try for a run. After 3 cups, I felt motivated enough to pull a few weeds to plan some Vincas I’d bought a few days before. IMG_2784 I knew if I didn’t plant them within 24 hours, it might be too late. So I settled on a spot and began clearing the Bermuda grass.

Although I was still disquieted and somewhat grumpy, the fact that I’d done something productive outside prompted me to move to another spot that needed weeding. I decided to put off running until 5. Around 5, I decided I just didn’t have a run in me. I was still feeling lethargic, “blue,” and annoyed at myself for not simply going out and running. IMG_2781

But I kept weeding. At some point, I moved to my front yard and embarked on a project I’d been dreading–digging out some well-entrenched Bermuda grass that had taken hold long before I bought the house last summer. This job required a shovel and lots of muscle. Eventually, I was able to sit and work from a more comfortable position.

At some point, I remembered a lovely neighbor who lived down the street from me in Stillwater, Oklahoma. She worked in the yard almost every day, had beautiful flowers and a bull terrier named Taz.

Linda also had multiple sclerosis. She could no longer walk unassisted and mostly got around on an electric scooter. She would sit on the ground for hours pulling weeds, planting flowers, creating beauty.

When Bama and I would walk, we would stop and visit. Occasionally, Bama and I would join Linda and Taz for walks. Taz was a bit hyper (named after the Tasmanian devil character in Bugs Bunny comics) but he was friendly, always minded Linda, and got on well with Bama (and other dogs). He was mostly off-leash and I always worried that he would dart out into the street and get hit by a car. I knew how much Linda adored Taz.

When I moved away, I dug up several of my perennials and gave them Linda because I knew she would value their beauty.

As I sat on my driveway Saturday night, pulling weeds and moving dirt around, I thought of Linda, MS, and how blessed I am to have good health and to have a good job. And how I lost nothing in the recent tornadoes that swept through my state. And how I have absolutely no reason to complain about anything in my life. And absolutely no reason to feel sorry for myself, or feel deprived because I can’t afford to do everything I want to do, or to “keep up with the Jones.”

Linda doesn’t know it but she inspired me for several years when I lived on Britton Drive in Stillwater. And my memory of Linda–and her love of flowers and positive attitude and friendliness–continues to inspire me today.

When I finished up for the night, I was surprised to discover it was 7 p.m. And I was no longer depressed.