Every garden contains the first garden, even the Belmont Victory Garden, even in February. The snow between the plots had drifted into undulating convexities, and was overtopping my boots. I stepped carefully, slowly, a pace congenial to looking and photographing. As my eyes acclimatized to the landscape of dried tangles and makeshift fences, I realized I was not alone. A man skiied past, stopped a few plots away to shout in Russian into a cell phone, then disappeared. Good riddance, I thought.
I have no problem with the concept of original sin, the alienated ego, the separate self. I have been enjoying my alienation lately, gnawing on it, relishing it, like a gargantuan infant of such vastness that my squalling discontents and hungers sometimes crowd out the whole world.
Eat, hissed the snake. And I did. Ate everything, even the snake.
But there is also, our priest once pointed out, original blessing. So post-lapsarian Eden is still open to visitors, a theme park of sorts, or maybe an archeological site, much like the winter garden ? What imagination can vest its withered vines and twigs with green ? Not mine -- last Saturday, at least. I was content with dry bones, with wire and snow,
with rusting tools, mysterious artifacts
and vistas of separation.
But when you encounter your fellow hermit on the garden path, then what ? What recognition arcs between the briefly upraised eyes ? Lips curve into smiles. What memory stirs ? Mother/child ? Creator/creature ? Oh, that sweet first moment of Fall, the moment when we first give Love a name -- if only we could hover there, midair, together, forever !
Impossible. Before long we crash, our limbs snap, we're caught on rusting barbed wire, we're swearing at buttons and shoelaces, dripping faucets and peeling paint, at the cat and at each other.
But then there is fractured grid against unscathed snow, and the oddness and elusiveness of aesthetic pleasure. Grid and snow: objects from which pleasure is quite easily stripped to reveal the naked strangeness that of everything that follows the bite of the apple.
Red-cheeked trollop ! Forget the fiction of the pimping serpent or the wife-who-made-me-do-it ? We see, lust, grab, eat, belch and look for more almost before we know what happened.
I was reading a dense essay by Rowan Williams this week in his book on the resurrection. I was reading it in bed; it was late; my eyes were crossing and my attention was flagging. I ploughed through the words, not quite getting the gist; notions of victim and victimizer, redemption and restraint. Then I fell asleep.
"Christ died for our sins" was a brick wall I'd bloodied my nose on for years. A crack had opened in the wall when our priest rephrased it, "Christ died because of our sins."
But how does that lead to redemption ?
A few days after falling asleep over Rowan it came back to me. It was a random moment, mid-workday, nothing special: there was the Victim, the PureVictim, who does not retaliate, who forgives everything -- and the other, necessary pole of this salvific dyad was myself, the sinner, the perpetrator, the victimizer, the undeserving recipient of gracious mercy. Coupled with this came an image from a film,Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar, -- the final scene when the hero, a donkey, after a life spent brutalized at the hands of a series of owners, lies down in a field and dies surrounded by a flock of sheep.
I trudged through the Victory garden in my old boots, my LL Bean leather and rubber boots circa 1978. They are the only piece of animal I still wear. What if I were to encounter the cow from which they came, standing at the far limit of the garden, under a tree where the snow is not so deep, gazing at me with sadness and love ?
What if I could glimpse an agitated stranger on a cell phone and, simply, smile ?