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Shift Happens

Can I get a witness? (Marvin Gaye)

In consultation with Ten on Mother’s Day, I elected not to try to push through planting a vegetable garden this year. The garden, a sunny twelve-by-twenty-four-foot fenced patch, got away from me last year. It was the perfect storm of intense heat, lack of rain, and work-oriented absences from home that left the cabbages and tomatoes, cucumbers and salad greens puny and choked by weeds. In terms of outdoor upkeep, it was all I could do, in reality, to run the mower, and even so my grass was usually three to four days longer than my neighbors’ precision-cut lawns.

Decluttering a to-do list is perhaps more challenging than emptying a closet. It requires saying no, sometimes—as in the case of my garden—to things we love to do. My vegetable patch here has been a touchstone to the massive garden we lived out of when I was growing up. It’s one in a long line of gardens that stretch back through several moves. When I look outside now, instead of freshly upturned earth and precious green shoots, I see the mess that was last year’s garden, untouched and wintered over, with brown stems and stalks sticking out in every direction like unkempt hair.

Monday morning after Mother’s Day, I used the decision in my opening remarks during yoga class. “Even though letting go is the right decision,” I commented, “it makes me sad.” I didn’t say that it feels like I’ve given up on a part of who I am. I didn’t say that the shift makes me feel less grounded, nor did I remark how much I miss getting my hands dirty in pursuit of fresh homegrown vegetables.

“Why don’t you go to the farmers’ market?” One of my regulars soothed.

I can’t go on Saturday to the downtown market, a multi-block event that is part street festival, part market, part social scene. “I teach Saturdays,” I said. We agreed among the assembled group that there were other markets. “Yes,” I told them hoping to put an end to the conversation, “I’ll have to find one that works with my schedule.”

“I’ll shop for you,” the same sweet regular said.

“You will?”

“We go every Saturday at 7 o’clock. I know all the vendors. Give me a list,” she smiled and scrunched her eyes a little, “and some money.”

“You’ve got a deal.”

True to her word and armed with my $25 and a list that read: “just get me what you’re getting yourself,” she went to the market, loaded up on produce, granola, and eggs, and brought them to me Saturday morning fresh from the market and the gardens just beyond. Fresh steamed asparagus and kale with poached eggs for Sunday morning breakfast? Heaven.

When she brought in my goodies to the studio, I walked out of the class I was teaching to hug her, thank her, and call, “I love you,” as she sallied out the door. She stopped and turned in her tracks, “well you know I love you too.” A big smile and she was gone.

My personal shopper at the farmers’ market, the woman who took my earrings to her beading chum to be repaired, the high school friend who phones sometimes twice or three times a day from Arizona to check in with me: These people bear witness to my life, the decisions I make, the needs I have. They and others like them arrive with a smile and are quick to exchange an embrace, an endearment, a favor. Whether we see each other weekdays at the studio, bi-monthly in my writing group, or not once in the past twenty-four years, as is the case with my friend in Arizona, we create framework and fabric that make our lives more dimensional. Sometimes it takes no more than noticing—the color of someone’s toenail polish, a new haircut or the way a person’s eyes light up at the thought of an accomplishment. We witness each other’s triumphs and witness, too, each other’s pains.

I bear witness for a cadre of people I adore; it is my greatest responsibility to bear witness to everything Ten and Fourteen. Earlier this week, at yet another end-of-the year recital, Ten and I sat wedged together on a folded up yoga mat, the bleacher underneath us unforgivably hard. We were in the gym to hear Fourteen play the trumpet with his band, the orchestra, the chorus, and ultimately the band, orchestra and chorus all performing together. Before the music started, Ten flitted off several times to say hello to school friends who had older siblings also performing. She came back and found me touching letters on my phone.

“What’re you doing?”

“Amusing myself.”

“Is it on silent?”

“It is.”

“No texting during the concert.”

I made a face that mockingly asked, “Who, me?”

“I’ve got my eye on you,” Ten shook her finger, her own face screwed up in her best “don’t mess with me” look.

Fourteen sounds his trumpet

Fourteen sounds his trumpet

And I thought—she does indeed. Like other witnesses in my life, Ten and Fourteen have begun asking me how my day was. They have been known to tuck me in for a nap when I’m struggling to keep my eyes open and offer to go to bat for me at the slightest perception of someone’s wrongdoing in my direction. I am still more primarily their witness than they are mine, and more than any other parenting task I do, they need me to watch, to listen, to witness their accomplishments and crashes. Still, every day the balance shifts a little, and the way they witness for me brings me unending comfort.

I tell a friend, my business witness who meets with me every two weeks in a coffee shop where we can compare notes on owning our own small businesses, about the decision to let the garden go. “Oh,” she says. “I want a garden. But I don’t have space. And I don’t know how. Maybe next year we could do it together.” And just like that, another shift. This time I shift back toward that piece of me I felt like I was leaving behind, the gardener, and forward toward someone I think I might like even better, a collaborative gardening partner, a team that could witness the garden growing together.

Enjoy the full flower moon of May. Thank you, as always, for reading & witnessing here. xoR


About Robin Bourjaily

I currently perform my own stunts as a mother, writer, editor, yoga instructor, and certified Yoga As Muse facilitator. Overneath It All is a medium for sharing my stories--my commitment is to post on the full and new moons, plus or minus a day or two, and the occasional personal holiday. My novel, Throwing Like a Girl, is now available in e-formats on Smashwords. Please visit to download. Thanks for checking in. xoR

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