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the dirt is still here


I was out for my Sunday run when I saw him kneeling in one of the flower beds. The old Placer place had been on the market so long it really was a surprise when it finally sold. Its yard was overgrown and the house, far removed from the street, took on a southern gothic air. The moving vans came and went, the neighbors all eager to see who their new neighbor was. He continued his work nonstop until everything was meticulously manicured and restored. Watching him work was like watching someone fulfill the most devout monastic journey.

This admiration went for several Sundays. We grew to expect each other, looking expectantly from our respective worlds. It started with a smile to a stranger, which turned into a friendly wave. Finally, I circled back after a wave and stopped to talk to him.

He introduced himself as ‘the gardener,’ curiously with no proper name. The first thing I noticed was his dirty fingernails. The second was the large-scale chain and lock around his neck. He wore a sunhat that was in scale with the rest of him. He was a gigantic man with tattoos seemingly everywhere.

I told him how much I admired his dedication to the garden, that I never seem to find time to work in my own. That with the hustle bustle of life - the internet, the job, the wife, the kids, my folks - that it felt like so many things fell through my fingers.

"See here," he motioned, pointing to a handful of dirt in his hands, letting it fall between his fingers, "What you are missing is that even though it falls through my fingers.... the dirt is still here."

He reached down, gently caressing the fallen dirt he'd just dropped like one might the soft cheek on a child.

"It never goes away, ya see....," he said with a friendly smile, looking back up at me,“'s just waiting here to be worked another time. Sure as shit, it fell through my fingers, it just means I have to reach for it again another time rather than considering the earth as "lost" to me, or as some kind of failure. The dirt is always waiting for me here. The dirt doesn't get offended.

Your only requirement is be to aware and present right in this instant, enjoy who you are with now, like we clearly are......versus being distracted by all the things you could be doing. Do your very best for the person or task you are in right now, and let the rest fall away.

I figure that's how I became a good man in the garden. When I'm out here - nothing else matters, and I give my best self to just this task. There are other tasks in life, to be sure, but they'll come in their own time. You'll see. It's like a magic spell."