Can Someone Steal Your Joy?

It's true. You don't really know what you've got until it's gone.

Posted Jul 09, 2019

Carrie Knowles
Is your garden full of joy?
Source: Carrie Knowles

When you least expect it, something or someone comes along to knock you off your game and challenge you. And, if you take a step back to think about the challenge rather than a step forward to confront the challenge, your reaction and subsequent response can not only change the course of what you’re doing but also make you more aware, more grounded in your life.

We live in a condominium community with a number of amenities, including a shared garden. For the last nine years, my husband and I have been informally in charge of the garden. Several years ago, after many failed attempts to grow a decent tomato, the group of community gardeners met and decided to change the purpose of the garden from growing a few vegetables readily available in the supermarkets and at the nearby farmers’ market to growing herbs and flowers, all available to the whole community whether they work in the garden or not.

It was a good decision. By making this change, everyone in the community had fresh, organically grown herbs for cooking and flowers to cut. We grew rosemary, thyme, oregano, three kinds of mint, two kinds of sage, tarragon, lemon balm, lemongrass, chives, sweet and hot peppers, basil, dill, and fennel. In the cutting garden, we had a beautiful stand of Shasta Daisies, Russian Sage, coreopsis, coneflowers, a stunning butterfly bush to encourage pollination, ageratum, marigolds, three colors of yarrow, a dozen different colors of coleus, cockscomb, daffodils, and a couple dozen other flowering plants. There was always something to enhance a meal or fill a vase.

Then, one weekend while we were gone, someone in the community came along, without asking permission, and dug up the herbs and most of the flowers so they could plant tomatoes.

Nine years of careful work was destroyed. The herb garden was gone.

What this person had so carelessly done hurt anyone who had ever worked in the garden, along with everyone who had ever cooked a meal using the herbs we grew or had cut a few flowers for their table.

We left the next weekend, both because we had planned to be away and also because I couldn’t stay home. I needed time to think about what the garden had meant to me.

Joni Mitchell’s 1970s hit song, “Big Yellow Taxi” kept playing in my head, especially the one line: “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone…”

And, I didn’t know.

During gardening season, my husband and I, along with other community gardeners, spent every other weekend weeding, trimming, harvesting a little here and there and replanting what had died. In the winter, we worked together to empty the beds of annuals, cut back the perennials and plan for the next garden.

While we were away that next weekend and I had time to think about what had happened, I was surprised to realize that I routinely spent time in the garden every day. Pulling weeds and cutting herbs for dinner was my way of making the switch from the demands of my work to the calm of my home.

I needed the garden more than it needed me. And now it was gone.

It is said that no one can steal your joy. That’s just not true.

I hadn’t understood either how much joy I had gotten from the garden or how it had helped anchor my life. What I did understand, however, was that I needed to find a new joy that would both comfort me and carry me calmly from my life as a writer/teacher at work to my life at home as a wife, mother, and grandmother.

I haven’t yet found a new joy or a stronger bridge to carry me from one role to another, but I’m working on it. And, no, I’m not rebuilding the garden. It’s time to dig a little deeper, understand my own needs a little better, and become not only more aware but more responsible for my own joy…a joy that can’t be so easily taken away.

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