The promised duration of the work day was three hours: nine in the morning until noon, after which we would knock off and celebrate our good work with a pizza lunch. But I am a sorry estimator of how long a task will take, as well as of the volume of things: we needed 14 cubic yards of mulch, not the 7 I had ordered in advance, and the last of the workers left at 2:30, not noon.
Still, all was well. I ordered the missing 7 yards and the nursery delivered them forthwith, a slight smirk on the face of the driver the only price I had to pay for my naivete. The twenty people who promised to come all did, arriving and leaving as they were able; Chris Kozub and his two excellent sons remained until the end -- We're so close! he said, when I told him at 1:30 that he should certainly knock off -- shoveling the last of the mulch mountain that had been deposited right in front of the church and sweeping up the crumbs, until not a trace was left.
How hard they worked, all of them! How the wheelbarrows trundled back and forth, full of their dark, fragrant cargo! Good church people knelt and bent and stretched, pulling weeds and covering the places where they had been with a thick blanket of mulch. The garden grew lovelier with each barrowful of mulch.
I was impressed with the shovelers, and wanted to be one. The blades of their shovels cut so cleanly into the dark mulch, the arc of the handles up and over toward the wheelbarrow was so rhythmic, looked so easy. Several times I approached the pile confidently with my shovel and scooped up a modest load, only to find that I couldn't toss it casually into the barrow as they did without experiencing an immediate and frightening weakness that I know better than to disregard. After a few tries, I gave it up, contenting myself with walking a small bucket of mulch back and forth and crawling under bushes to mulch the out-of-the-way places. They also serve who crawl and mulch, I told myself.
I wondered, as I walked and crawled and stopped to rest -- resting more than most of the others -- if anyone resented what must have looked like my laziness. No, I realized; nobody did. They weren't fussing themselves about me; I was the only one doing that. They were doing their work, enjoying each other's company and the beauty of the day, happy to be helping, satisfied as the beauty of the garden grew and grew around them. Happy to be part of it all. There was no reason for me not to be happy, too. I decided to set my self-absorption aside for the rest of the day.
We sang grace before wolfing down our pizza, the doxology to the beloved "Old One Hundredth." There were choir members there, professional musicians among the gardeners; our voices blended in a harmony that was as lovely a thing as I've heard in a while. The teenagers among us rolled their eyes a bit and caught each other's eyes, stifling embarrassed smiles, but they will remember that the adults in their church when they were young worked together in the garden and sang a song of praise. I am happy to give them that memory, and don't demand that they appreciate it right now. There will be days in the future when they will wish that every day in life could be as simple a joy as that one was.
After everyone was gone, I lay alone on the grass in the garden, aching in every bone and none too clean. I was so glad to rest there, surrounded by the fragrant beds, the dark, woody smell of the new mulch, the butterflies visiting the blossoms of bushes, by the silent, gentle presence of those beloved souls whose earthly remains are interred there. There names are on a brass plaque on the wall; I buried many of them, remember parts of their lives, many of their deaths. They are with Jesus now, I thought to myself, but they are also here, in all this beauty. To keep it lovely, for them and those who love them still, is to honor the arc of life that joins us all, the living and the dead. We have not forgotten you, I told them silently, the heavenly host, as the birds of the earth called to one another, and insects flew in the air.
They answered me. And neither have we forgotten you.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,
Praise him, ye creatures here below,
Praise him, above, ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
Or, if you're in the mood for something a little different, the inclusive language doxology which has been sung for decades at St. Clement's in Manhattan's theater district:
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,
Praise God, ye creatures here below,
Praise God, ye hosts in heaven' above,
Praise God, the Trinity of Love.