Lying in the examination room, an idea took hold. It distracted Cathy, helped to while away those wasted hours spent awaiting appointments that always ran late. She would make a flower bed; smack-dab in the middle of her lawn to be viewed from several areas of the house. She’d cram it full of flowers in shouting colors; each time she saw it, she’d be cheered.
Through all the tests and examinations, she escaped her surroundings by envisioning the garden with her mind’s eye. By concentrating on the garden, she blocked out the cacophony of monitoring machines that surrounded her. She shifted its shape, changed color combinations, imagined this and that until the design seemed perfect.
The day of her first radiation treatment, a neighbor dug up the area she’d staked out. All the while her body was being invaded and bombarded, she focused her thoughts on planting her new garden. In her imagination, she could feel the crumbly earth slip between outstretched fingers. Taking deep breaths, she could almost taste the satisfying fragrance of newly-turned earth. She couldn’t wait to begin.
Several weeks passed before she recovered sufficiently to begin work. The summer sun caressed her pallid skin as she sank to the grass beside the kidney-shaped area. A gaily printed bandanna, her badge of defiance, wrapped a balding head. Eager fingers reached to pluck away stray bits of uprooted foliage and remove stones marring the garden’s smooth surface. Beside her lay a yellow mesh plastic bag bulging with promise. As her fingers curled around each odd-shaped bulb, she could almost feel the throb-beat of life enclosed within.
From high overhead, a melodious tune floated down and she paused to locate the songbird. Among the hickory tree’s branches, she spotted a flash of red and flashed her appreciation toward the serenading bird. As probing rays of the sun’s heat penetrated her blouse, she felt the knob of bone-cold at her center melt into a warmth that dispersed throughout her body. She disdained a trowel, preferring to plunge her hands deep into the waiting soil. With bits of earth clinging, she scooped out a hollow for each bulb, then nestled each promise of life into its place, pausing often to catch her breath.
Spasms of pain would interrupt her efforts and cause her to halt until they pass. Yet she savored each moment for its simplicity and pure enjoyment. She looked forward with anticipation to when tiny shoots of green would break the bounds of their brown covering. Her thoughts flew to the future, to the promise fulfilled, when this patch of earth would bloom in a riot of colors.
Tomorrow would come; another day in another week spent battling this relentless enemy. But even on those days when she couldn’t rise from her bed, a turn of her head would bring the garden into view. And, yes, even if her struggles ended in defeat, she could pass along hope and a vision of God's beauty to others through this garden.
It’s been four years since my friend lost her battle against cancer. Soon afterward, her home was sold and a new family moved in. I pass by frequently on my way to the post office. What I saw today brought a smile. A mass of blue Salvia spears poke up above a patchwork of zinnias. The garden remains a tribute to her memory. I smile, remembering Cathy’s spirit and I feel Cathy’s spirit smiling back.