Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Trees (12/05/05)
TITLE: The Nature of the Gardener
By Lisa McMillion
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"A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard. He came looking for some fruit on the tree, but he found none."
It is finished, I thought. What wilted leaves remained on the ficus drooped downward to frown at me. The deciduous ones littered my carpet-- aged and stained first-apartment carpet, but MY carpet. Inviting my obsessions and compulsions to come and help me be late for work, I grabbed a fist full of wayward foliage; a defiant few slipped from either end of my hand. Even the dustbuster, wormhole for all unwanted debris, swelled like a parasite then shot leaves clear across the living room- yellow-green mice escaping through an impossible fissure. If there had been a hacksaw within ten yards, my "Why I oughtta!" would've turned more bite than bark.
"So the man said to his gardener, 'I have been looking for fruit on this tree for three years, but I never find any. Cut it down. Why should it waste the ground?"
I stood later like that troublesome tree. Potted in the Father's throne room, knee-deep in fertile soil, yet I found myself failing to thrive, moving past his courts like a stone on the beach - one square inch of prime real estate at a time. I wanted so badly to produce for him, to shine as brightly as the other saints I had come to admire.
He would inspect me today, on his daily walk. For him, it is an action of constancy, expectancy-- this perusal of his kingdom. For me, it is the day after a treacherous fall, one that had leached the protective soil about my roots, carrying it away in obvious, ugly rivulets. The healing bed section of the greenhouse is at the corner of Faith and Fulfillment, just a whistle and gesture from Completely Falling Away. Why would he waste his time here, in diseased mud, when he could be walking in lush gardens or a sylvan paradise? Remembering my own merciless go at gardening, I see the ficus dying a slow death by the dumpster with no care or nutrition - all to appease my impatience. Upon that desolate image, a figure approaches; it is the Son who first brought me to the Father. Dressed in a hat, gardening gloves, and coveralls, he carries his instruments with him, the ones designed to cut.
"But the servant answered, 'Master, let the tree have one more year to produce fruit. Let me dig up the dirt around it and put on some fertilizer.'"
"Where are we going?" I ask as he bends beside me. Would it be the fire? I'd experienced plenty of that from the breath of one-time admirers and friends. The shredder? At least the story of my plight could provide mulch for future generations. "I have to cut away the wounded parts," he says, "to graft you in again." As we climb the hill toward where the nicer trees are kept, I notice one with glorious foliage, an intricately woven trunk, and verdant leaves glossed and preened to the tips. "Do you remember this one?" the gardener asks me. "I ... I don't think so..." I reply, leaving out 'I don't tend to hang in this part of town.' "It's the tree you had given up on," he says, adding, "It's one of our best."
The gardener begins to cut away: "This place is known to you as 'the flawless orchard,' but I know it as 'the garden of broken dreams.' When you give up on what I've planned for you, I collect it and care for it. Then, I can graft you back into what you believed was lost forever. Restoration is the nature of my Father."
"If the tree produces fruit next year, good. But if not, you can cut it down."
Every year they come, brittle and barren. It is always the same: "another year, Father. Look at this one... there was barely a shoot when she came in last, but now, there are enough roots to separate and plant in other regions. It will happen with this little one, too."
There is no Greek mythology, god-tantrum response to his intercession: "you're stalling judgement!" No fuehrer mentality, desiring a utopia of stronger, purer strains. The restored trunks keep gaining circumference, racing toward the sky with untold benefits to those below; there are no signs of their original impediments. The nature of the gardener is, as well, the nature of the gardener's Father.
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