On the days after chemo, I try to walk down to the East River early in the morning. Although there are a half dozen ways of getting there, I usually take the same route – because I have it honed to maximize my exposure to other people’s gardens.
“Gardens” is a term to use loosely in New York, even in a place as tree-lined as Cobble Hill. I include window boxes, and pots on front stoops, and the tree with the pink fluff-ball flowers growing at the entrance of a parking lot. There’s one house with a garden that’s mostly concrete and wood-chips, but it has a pair of spindly rose bushes that produce one or two spectacular blooms every few weeks. I even have some favorite failures: the empty basket suspended from a lamp post, the claw foot bath tub filled with weeds.
I know that exercise is good for me. It may diminish the side effects of chemotherapy, and it will probably help keep me strong and well. But often my main reason for walking is just to bathe in the life among the streets and homes (my urban shinrin-yoku).
I sometimes worry about being too introverted, solipsistic even. I wish I was better at remembering the names of all the nurses who administer my treatment. I wish I was better at asking people about that big thing in their lives. I wish I knew the right time and way to send a message that says “I’m thinking of you and I care about you.”
Particularly because, since my diagnosis, I have been the recipient of countless such messages. I have received beautiful gifts and thoughtfully chosen books from the most unexpected (and even anonymous) people. Even the quiet friends, the old colleagues, the sometimes friends, have stepped up to let me know I am loved.
I have come to see these threads of connection, so light and freely given, as a web. Like the fairies in my childhood picture books, I am held aloft by these soft strands. Together, they weave such a strong net of connection that in the midst of an often isolating journey, I don’t feel alone.
This web is not a reward given for some good act. It is not repayment, it is not deserved in any measurable way. It doesn’t matter that I am introverted, and sometimes solipsistic. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t always done the right thing.
It is one of the reasons I love the gardens so much. Gardening is an introverted activity. Though I can’t see into the minds of my neighborhood’s gardeners, I suspect few – if any – were acting in the public interest. They didn’t plan for (or plant for) the stranger who would eagerly track the progress of their garden’s blooms. I love these gardeners for their failures and their successes, and for the joy that they have accidentally brought me simply by doing the thing that they love.