To keep the perfect days so that what we have
laboured over and nourished, petted and protected
can be held at its zenith…how badly we would
like to hold it just so.
WE SPENT THE FIRST YEARS of our marriage out in
the suburbs about fifteen minutes east of Nashville. But we were not
really suburbanites at heart. We like sidewalks and old trees, front
porches and old cottages, and restaurants within walking distance.
To the constant curiosity of our suburban neighbors in those days, the two of us did our best to turn our small tract house in an ordinary subdivision into a Victorian cottage,
inside and out. We whitewashed the brick exterior and grew privet hedges around the front edge of the yard and down the sides, trying to grow them tall and unruly and impenetrable to the eyes of people driving by. We put in white board fences and a potting shed and a kitchen garden. We hunkered down behind the hedges and piped opera out the window into the backyard and generally did our best to live as though Rosamunde Pilcher and Miss Jane Marple were just around the corner instead of a Wal-Mart.
One April evening we sat in the yard enjoying a golden sunset, a particular moment we both clearly recall. Surrounded by the first fresh blooms of the lower garden, we were watching the goldfinches come to the feeders. We talked about how good it was going to be to have a summer where we were only maintaining the garden instead of building it, to have a chance to sit and enjoy the season rather than work so hard. We both recall a gentle breeze that evening we thought was the leading edge of a warm front we hoped might bring us a welcome shower. The gentle breeze turned out to be the front edge of the winds of change. My children were coming.
The complete story of how the two of us became the four of us is complicated, and some of it is not even mine to tell. In those days we saw my two young children on Thursday evenings and every other weekend and at holidays. But a fast-moving and surprising series of circumstances and conversations conspired to produce our invitation for them to come to live with us. It was not something we ever planned on doing, but it seemed the right thing when we did it, and it seems the right thing these years later. When they said yes, our world changed very quickly.
Within a few days, we put the suburban house on the market and sold it. We started looking for a house large enough to hold us all, in a neighborhood where the children would be zoned to the schools we all agreed were the right ones for them. We found a circa 1910 cottage in an old Victorian-style neighborhood in the heart of the city, a neighborhood called Sunnyside, no less. Ms. Pilcher and Ms. Marple would have been pleased. Within another month, we were packed up and moved. We had an old house to live in and a new home to make.
“The journey through time…is a journey in search,” wrote Frederick Buechner. “We search for a self to be. We search for other selves to love. We search for work to do.” Our search for those things often leads us to places we never imagined we would go, places we never imagined we would live. Not very many of us live in the same neighborhood or the same city or the same state we grew up in.
The nature of the society in which we live has most of us on the move most of the time—from job to job, town to town, and all too often from relationship to relationship. Being transplanted is something that happens one way or another to most all of us. Putting down new roots is not
always an easy thing to do. The roots from which we came are often buried deeply in soil that we have long since left, or at least most of us have. We go back to visit from time to time—holidays,
reunions, weddings, funerals, and other moments in which milestones are marked. The older we get, the truer it is that some of the people who put down the roots from which we grew are gone now. They have joined the crowd of folks “whom we have loved but no longer see,” as the old prayer books call them.
We visit our roots, one might say, but the truth is that someone else planted those roots. We grew up, and we went away to find our own futures, make our own homes, and put down our own roots. Wherever we went away to, we are the ones who must do the digging in.
We search for our own selves, for work to call our own, and for others to love. If we are to have any roots at all, we must find them in the places where we are now, on this day. If we are to make a home, if we are to deeply belong to the places in which we find ourselves, we must dig ourselves
in somehow. It is in such digging in that we can most tenderly recall the places we came from, most deeply appreciate where we are, and most clearly see who we may yet become. How well we fulfill our dreams and hopes for a place to belong might just come down to how well we tend to the life that is lived in our own backyard. Whether our place is large or small, urban or rural, our first home or our last, a cottage or a condo, these are the places where we must put down roots.
Bloom Where You Are Planted was the title of a book I readwhen I was a teenager. And I later came to laugh at the notion of it, it sounded so sweet and so naive. A lot of things about the sixties were like that. Later still, I finally caught on.
We have no other choice, actually. And so we may as well dig in.
Excerpted from Digging In by Robert Benson Copyright © 2007 by Robert Benson. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.