Yard work had been part of our chores growing up, and I couldn’t discern which had been worse: stuck in the house washing dishes or toiling away in the dirt under various weather conditions. The less strenuous — still unglamorous — yard work included maintaining the garden.
Though we planted many herbs, spices, fruits, and vegetables, the process uninterested me. I often felt that so much labor went into maintenance when fertile growth wasn’t promised. When storms or animals ruined our plants or destroyed seeds before they could thrive, I became angered and found the whole experience wasteful. I swore I would never be interested in anything remotely related to gardening or farming.
After a heartbreaking drive through Bloekombos to the leafy outskirts of De Novo, I arrived at my final location, another massive farm with a view of even more mountains. The place was so peaceful; all I could hear were the light pacing of staff throughout the concrete building and leathery footsteps crunching dirt and cracking sticks in the yard.
Unlike the previous establishments, I was greeted with several warm hugs. For a moment, I felt as if I had been tearing up. I couldn’t remember the last time someone hugged me, let alone with such emotion. It was as if I had already known these people, and outside of my reservation, my arrival was long-awaited.
When I visited my childhood home, I’d look out the dining room window into the yard with surprise and disappointment. As we all found ourselves busy navigating life’s challenges, the garden was ignored. When and how did we let this happen? I wanted to do something about it, but I wasn’t confident I remembered how to maintain the garden properly. So it continued to wilt.
Some years later, I was reminded of the garden as I languished, medicated, plump, and motionless on a hard hospital bed while others decided what would happen to me. Because I feared my memory would be lost when they were done, I spent my time remembering, savoring every memory — big or small, painful or lovely.
I began to cry because though I often felt I didn’t have the tools to move forward, a part of me was eager to try. I couldn’t possibly learn to tend my soul’s garden if I hadn’t tried. Pulling at the roots and removing rot and weeds, I first needed to clear the ground. Clarity would lead the way to understanding what was required to thrive.
Encouraged to avoid referring to them formally, my hospitable hosts joined me in wine tasting and jest. We joked about what Africans perceived as oddities or similarities of Caribbean culture before we moved to more profound matters of the wine industry, the impact of colonization, and the environment.
Every so often, my attention drifted to the mesmerizing landscape, and the 2020 Pinotage coddled me to the whispering wind and the shaking trees. I was struck by an instinctive urge to run around the grassy earth and plant something. It was a desire to intentionally connect with nature, to love and nurture the earth. My youthful promise of avoiding yard work began to dissipate, and, at once, I knew that I wanted a stronger relationship with nature, whether it be a small home garden or a flourishing field of crops.
The family’s elders urged us to ensure we all had dinner after a rather lengthy tasting, and as they concluded their evening, the remaining youthful bunch made dinner plans. As they wouldn’t allow me to leave so late in the evening without food, I accepted their invitation to dine and lodge at the farm. What went from one night of convenient lodging became my preferred resting place for the remainder of my trip to South Africa.
People say they want authenticity until your authentic self doesn’t align with who they had in mind. Because of this, I feared getting too close to people, fearing I might disappoint them. However, I am learning that others can genuinely enjoy my company without undermining myself on a mission to preserve their interest in me. It is not my responsibility to keep others around who validate my worth but to attract those who understand my worth.
I found a way to topple my bell jar, and the previously distorted and foggy world now seemed more evident. It wasn’t rose-colored as I naively hoped, but I could see it for what it was. While there is sometimes pain in living your truth, there is only despair in denial.
This Mental Health Awareness Month, I raise a delicious glass of M’hudi’s 2019 Shiraz to my growing garden: as I witness my wellness journey thus far, I welcome a future of abundance in hope, gratitude, self-compassion, and love.