Up until about two weeks ago, there was one thing that I had not done during the pandemic, that I badly needed to do. That was to let my anger out in a truly physical and unapologetic way. Yes, I had expressed anger before. To like-minded friends and family, I had voiced my outrage at the mishandled pandemic response, the science deniers who called this crisis a “plan-demic,” and at those who defiantly refused to mask despite the alarming number of illnesses and deaths. I expressed anger when I called customer service at a nearby store, upset, that a maskless woman, had screamed at my husband, “Why are you wearing a mask, old man? You’re going to die anyway!” I showed anger in my letters to my representatives about the mishandling of the pandemic, and I showed more anger when I hit delete on email responses that defended their love of the dollar (and their then President) over the safety of their constituents. Each time, though, my anger turned inward, because what do you do with profound disappointment and growing fury at those who would rather spread disease than to rid it?
Then one recent Spring day after a hard rain over a year into the pandemic, my husband and I got out our garden hand tools to weed the large flower bed that encircles our oak tree. We started side by side and then moved in opposite directions with the intention of both of us doing half the job. After we had weeded thoroughly, we’d mulch, giving the plants a further layer of protection. The bed was past due for a weeding and despite the soft soil, this would be no quick task. I donned my gardening gloves not realizing how quickly I’d be pulling them off to better grip those weeds that were about to take the brunt of my anger and frustration.
I tackled the weeds under the azaleas first, and as I pulled and dug, I thought how these weeds were attacking these healthy plants. They wouldn’t kill them, but if I didn’t intervene, they could weaken them and keep them from growing to their full potential. Not so the perennials like the wood thrift and purple salvia. The weeds would choke them out completely. How dare they attempt to harm the very plants I had nurtured and loved, and what asinine gall to cough in the faces of the periwinkle and phlox, spreading their greedy roots and killing all that was beautiful in this bed and turning it purposefully ugly and mean. It’s true that some of them made me question if I were being too ruthless today: they showed a pretty face and donned a pretty flower. Nonetheless, they unabashedly stole from the others more vulnerable than they—things like basic needs: food, water, security. So, I shoveled and raked and stabbed and pulled with a vengeance until sweat ran down my face despite the fact that it was a cool day, stopping only to gently lift a squirming earthworm, which I now imagined as a minute essential worker that needed my compassion now more than ever, and moved it away from the growing plunder of my garden tools.
I glanced over at Tony, now opposite me, and he seemed serene, carefully and meticulously picking and pulling with precision. His hands calmly held the hand rake, and he seemed almost meditative as he worked. For a moment, watching him, I began to feel calm, but the feeling was short-lived. He glanced up and pointed to a plant. “Is this something we should keep?
“Weed,” I say decisively. “Get rid of it.”
Just as we had planned, we met on the opposite side of the circle from where we began. Amazingly we both shared exactly half the task, and even more amazing is that we did an equally thorough job of ridding the bed of weeds. However, Tony’s side looked like a Zen raking, neat and smooth, while mine resembled a war zone that was pitted and pocked with the angry jabs of my shovel and rake.
“We’re through,” Tony said, “except for the mulch.”
But I wasn’t through. A year of pent-up anger, of lost time with my family and friends, of disbelief and bewilderment and sometimes fear that the basic tenants and belief systems that I mistakenly thought most of us shared, had changed me, had made me wary, had made me want more than ever to pull my people close and to keep them safe. Thank goodness there were other flower beds in our yard that needed weeding. Thank goodness.