It takes a community of people to find and reclaim isolated people. I was reminded of that this week with the tragic passing of one of our Community Gardeners. But rather than telling you about his death; of our little band of gardeners who are in mourning and who have set his chair tight against the table and claimed it a “no go” zone for a period. I want to tell you about one of the happiest memories that this man brought to our Garden team.
A few years ago this man came to our garden straight from prison. He struggled to come regularly until the team bandied together and found him a bike. For a long while, when he did come, he would do nothing but sit and swear and smoke in a corner and not lift a hand to water or weed. One of the other members began to get bitter about this but our Garden Co-ordinator would have nothing of it. There was something that drew him out of his lonely world and into a garden and that was enough.
So they set about to loving him until one day, out of nowhere, this man rode up to the garden with a plant resting on the handle bars of his bike; his gift to the garden. If he had given a solid gold birdbath his contribution could not have been more celebrated!
“It has pretty flowers in spring.” he told us.
…but the next morning the plant was gone. Stolen.
That same member who had previously grumbled about his laziness could not stand the sudden praise and had taken the plant. He hadn’t been very clever about the theft because he had planted it in his own front garden… but he still denied it.
So our Garden Co-ordinator gave him an ultimatum. Until you can apologise and pay for the stolen plant, you are not welcome in the garden.
Now the garden had become this man’s world and so for weeks he grumbled (wandering up and down the garden fence, sulking in the cafe) until, after a few weeks, we were able to cox him into the apology.
Unbeknownst to him, however, the Garden Co-ordintator had also given an ultimatum to the man whose plant contribution had been stolen. When this man returns, apologises and compensates you for the theft- if you do not forgive him… you will also no longer be welcome in the garden.
I have a photo of that moment; the moment when the apology was made and forgiveness extended. The most awkward and whole-hearted embrace I have seen- captured in full colour! This photo reminds me why I do what I do.
So that is how I will remember him. That photo and the plant (repurchased) still growing in our garden… and yes it does have pretty flowers in spring.
He lost his battle with the bottle and with his demons this week but because of the little band of gardeners who drove him to his doctor’s appointments (and everywhere else once his legs failed him) he was not isolated or alone but a part of a community…. he will not go un-mourned or un-missed.