The Gardener

A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.  And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none.  Cut it down.  Why should it use up the ground?’  And he answered him, ‘Sir let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure.  Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.  (Luke 13: 6-9)


This house is new. No. It’s actually old. Or rather not new. But it’s new for me; my family; us. It’s a small college town: Claremont, California, and my mother has decided we move here on the advice of her friend from work. 

My mother has cancer. Late stage cancer. But I think she will survive. No. I want her to survive.

We were in Los Angeles when it happened. She finally got that biopsy. I thought I knew. Cancer. I said. Your stomach’s big. Hard. It feels like something is in there and we knew she wasn’t pregnant. So what else could it be?

She gazed at me; eyes glazed with an endless current of tears never shed. Mouth pursed shut. How many words had she never said?

Now I think I should have been gentler; chosen my words more carefully. Been kinder. Understood. I wish I could say I have no regrets. I wish I could say that. I could say that. But it would not be the truth.

Sometimes I dream. Sometimes I feel like the wind speaks for her.

I dreamt of butterflies last night, and wondered if the woman you are now would take time to remember me once in a while. 

The house had a garden out back. My mother loved gardens and gardening. Anything that grew she loved. Except one. That thing growing in her abdomen that would spread (we don’t know when it spread but it would) to all parts of her body including her brain. She would go outside and tend to her flowers- wild and potted alike. Then the time would come when she could no longer stand; water the plants she loved. Being upright would become a misery. And she would retire to her bed, never to rise again. 

Bedridden, my mother retained her formidable strength of will and character. Cancer did not care. Nature had its way with her. Took her from this world. Her smile. Her laughter. Never to grace this earth again.

You gave me this color, though I am not sure you would ever understand. You are my little flower, and I love you. 

My mother smiled the way the sun breaks through clouds after thunderstorms and lightning. You could not help but smile back. Breathe a sigh of relief. Find comfort in her very presence. She was like a little girl; saving flowers downtrodden on the sidewalk. Plucking stems from public bushes. She never understood why these things were not allowed. ‘Beauty is meant to be shared by everyone. He doesn’t own the earth.’ She said that day she was coming back from the physiotherapist and plucked a flower from their flower bed. The security guard stopped her and threatened her and wanted to call the cops. My mother was hurt and angry. He made her throw it in the trash. And my mother cried on our way home for that little piece of earth she never got to take with her and water as her own.

-Once I wished for the courage to become a gadfly. And once I forgot my wishes.

-This is not a fairy tale. And you know… sometimes, you just have to learn to live. Maybe this isn’t what you expected. But…. none of that matters. Maybe it’s time to stop living in dreams and notice what is around you.

-Yeah… laughs That wasn’t very poetic.

-So? Every moment is filled with possibilities. You just have to strive for yours.

-… Okay.

My mother would enter the ICU to never return. They would not even want to admit her. Then they would say she is going to die. She’s dying. Why waste time? Why waste their resources? Cruel, harsh, uncaring words from the very mouth of her caregivers’ lips. Her own doctor took issue with our choice to not sign the DNR on her behalf. My mother who herself was a doctor, who grew flowers, who protected her children in the only way she knew how, and loved my father with such strength of conviction and happiness. This woman they looked at and saw no reason to give her more time on this earth. They intubated her and my mother moaned the whole time they were inserting the tube. This was the last moment of consciousness from her. I wish I knew what she said.

Someday, you will be walking and I will call you and you won’t hear.


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