I’m beginning to understand why my mother spent so much time pulling weeds.
She pulled weeds in the noonday summer sun. She wore shorts and an elastic halter top, her clip-on sunglasses and sometimes a visor, not always. She waited for it to be hot. It had to be broiling. That’s when she ventured out, sat on our concrete driveway and inched herself down one side and then the other. It was the weeds that grew between the edge of the lawn and the driveway that were her focus.
And she really did focus. Thinking back, she almost seemed hypnotized by the task of pulling the weeds as if pulling weeds was a place she was going rather than a task she was doing.
It took her all afternoon to pull the weeds. And then, I suppose, she had to wait for them to grow back.
For a long time, I considered this habit of my mother’s along with others that created for her a solitary space to be a manifestation of her depression. The scorching sun on her back all afternoon, the pulling of the tiny weeds one by one with her bare hands, her polished red nails like holly berries among the green of the weeds, it made for a cocoon.
My mother’s weed-pulling place was warm and safe and impenetrable. No wonder she liked it there.
I thought about that today. I pulled upstart little weeds from where they shouldn’t have been in the new mulch I put down a few weeks ago. I pulled grass growing between the bricks lining my backyard. I carried each handful to a big paper bag and felt useful and in control of the weeds and my yard.
A few times, I’ve taken a look at my phone – Facebook, Twitter, CNN, Fusion. Who is this latest person who bought an assault rifle and killed 50 people? As if it makes any difference. What is the reason he would do such a thing? Was it an ISIS plot? Did he have mental illness? As if it makes any difference.
Fifty people out for an evening in a nightclub are dead and just as many are wounded. The news folks are looking for ‘reasons’ and the campaigns are looking for angles and the President replays the tape from the 5th or 12th mass shooting where he’s held a press conference, a ‘talk to the nation.’ As if it makes any difference.
Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people are grieving their terrible loss today. An entire town must feel traumatized and terrified and the LGBT community in Orlando and the entire country must be grieving and angry and worried that no place they are is safe. It’s true for them, it’s true for everyone. There are no safe places. Not church, not schools, not movie theaters, not restaurants, not nightclubs, not gas stations, not alleys, not weddings, not proms. Not my street, not my back porch, not my garden.
We dropped our son off for work this morning. He is a steward on a big ferry that goes back and forth across Lake Michigan. He said goodbye and commented that it would be a long, hard day with 210 people riding the ferry today.
“I hope one of them doesn’t have a gun,” I said to my husband as we drove away, the sun sparkling on Lake Michigan and the day as bright and hopeful as any day could be. And then we came home and I settled in to the business of pulling weeds.