Everyone goes through a dark time. Mine was a stretch of sadness that overwhelmed me for years. I didn’t know it was depression, then. All I knew was that my body felt like it was falling apart, and my mind felt worse. My life had atrophied, blackened, and nothing mattered anymore. I was all bone. Worst, I was no longer looking for a way out of it – I could remember being content, being free from worry, but these things were so far away, they were no longer even goals.

That year, the slope outside my window was bare and craggy with rocks. Every morning I looked outside and tried to imagine greenness between the house and the trees. I kept looking and hoping, but it wasn’t there. I kept needing to go outside and do something about it, so, finally, I did.

I didn’t, and don’t, know much about gardening, but I knew rocks were a bad idea, so I clawed them out of the ground. I didn’t have the right tools, but I had my hands. My nails ripped down to the quick. The rocks cut my fingers and bruised my knees. I liked it. It wasn’t masochism, nor martyrdom - it just seemed right that I should have to bleed a little to improve something. It was good to feel that some pain could have a purpose.

The dirt was more clay than soil, and I knew it could host nothing but scraggly weeds. I heaved shovelfuls of solid, heavy clay into the woods, then spread out sackfuls of dark, fragrant topsoil. I stomped on the ground to pack it down, my own rain dance. It had been a long time since I’d felt free to be silly.

I spent hours tending my little slope, long silent hours. My mind was not always at ease. There were days when I could do nothing but worry, could not keep focused on my task. This was not a magical process by which my mind was suddenly absolved of its burdens. But, more and more often, I found myself able to relax and think of nothing but the sweet crumbly earth in my hands.

My father told me that only fools and crazy people work in gardens in the summertime in Georgia, and that I was probably both, not to mention asking for heatstroke. Maybe I was. I didn’t think I was asking for anything. I didn’t think what I was doing was important.

When I saw that some of my transplanted grass was beginning to take root, I felt something like pleasure and pride. I had helped little living things to succeed, and now I had something better to look at from inside. These were the only things I thought I had accomplished.

One day in August a thunderstorm swept up and caught me outside. The air was saturated with heat and water. I closed my eyes and stood up and felt the warm trickle down my neck and back. Standing there, feeling at home on my green slope, I knew I had brought about positive change in the world, even if it was a tiny change. I was a part of something good.

God might even be proud of me right now, I thought, and it was such a foreign and wonderful thought that I had no choice but to start crying. I realized that it had been weeks since I’d cried, and these were good tears, a cleansing change from the sobs that used to overwhelm me. These tears did not lessen me, and they got along well with the rain streaming down my face. I cried until I was laughing.

The whole meaning of this experience did not come in a sudden burst of understanding. I never intended a little amateur yardwork to set me on the path of figuring out what was making me so sad, and changing it. It took me six years to realize that spiritual cleansing were the right words for what I was doing with the rocks and clay, and for what I was doing with myself.

I was blessed, that summer. Blessed by the fresh hot air and light, by the downpour that caught me and made me a true, living part of the world. Above all, I was blessed with the sudden right and ability to re-enter my own life, and the will to start making it better. It was a wonderful beginning.

"Stones will grow if you don't keep an eye on them,
and pretty soon they'll eat up your whole world."

-sound words of advice from Bob Ross (dead)

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