What does it mean to recover? The word has its root in the latin – recuperate meaning to ‘get again’. I have just had surgery on my throat, to remove a pair of recalcitrant glands that were over producing a hormone leaving me with a surfeit of calcium in my blood. I was very shaken by the general anaesthetic and as that has wained, I have attempted to get up and running, sadly too soon. It was my birthday on Friday and so I made a couple of very pleasurable, but ultimately slightly overtaxing trips. So here I am laying in the wonderful May sunshine, feeling sorry for myself, with a swollen neck and unable to do the gardening jobs I sense pressing in on me.
The garden holds a place in my life that is redolent with emotion and memory. I was lucky enough to grow up in a house with a large and rambling garden, more to the point with a family that loved gardening. My Grandmother came from Little Plumstead in Norfolk, the daughter of a farm worker and well-schooled in the art of growing things. All the people around me when I was a child spoke of cuttings and the old names for plants; Grannie’s Bonnet, Love in a Mist, and Bleeding Hearts.
I spend so much of my time thinking I will sit happily in the garden and then look around and see no end to the jobs that need to be done, so many elements of the whole picture nag at me with their unsatisfactory incompleteness. I am berated by the perfection of the plots on Gardener’s World, whereas my grass is run bare and muddy by my dogs, weeds are overwhelming my Lilly of the Valley and the slugs are just waiting to devour my Jacob’s Ladder. But today I am powerless, it will have to stay as it is. I will have to learn to appreciate it all as it is, with no further input from me.
As the sun has slanted across the patio and my wife has stood at her easel struggling with a landscape I try to still myself. Listening to the birds in full-throated song, the dogs skittering around the garden barking at shadows, a long filament of spider’s web glistening between two branches, and I surrender. Nature has me to herself. If recovery is to ‘get again’ and perhaps again and again, and I keep losing it and finding it, at present about every five minutes, then I am in recovery.
We have this idea that if only I could be allowed to stop and rest then it would all be great, but our striving and way of living can cause such a disturbance in our soul and body that when we stop the momentum of those disturbing factors they persist like inertia. Hence, the subsequent recovery takes longer, longer to allow the toxins accumulated over weeks or even years to leave the system and, more important, for them to be replaced by something good and wholesome. I know we don’t all have the luxury of, or as in my case enforced, slowness – but I am more and more convicted that we need slower lives. Full of times with quiet, natural, birdsong imbued, soothing, peace. I will try and take my own medicine and report on what happens. In the meantime, I offer this wonderful Wendell Berry poem that a friend read to me last week.
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free
BY WENDELL BERRY
Source: Collected Poems 1957-1982 (Counterpoint Press, 1985)