Our house is built on a sloped lot. You walk in our front door at street level and the back door from our basement.
When we built the house, we knew we wanted some level ground for our children to play, so we had the builder terrace the backyard. Two level areas are connected by a bank too steep to mow.
Money was tight when we first moved in over 30 years ago. Our landscaping budget was nil, so the bank remained unimproved dirt while we tried to figure out what to plant and how to pay for it.
My father had connections, though. He made friends (of course) with a nearby farmer, who had surrounded his corn crib with a honeysuckle bed. Dad asked the farmer if he could have some of the honeysuckle, and the farmer told him to help himself.
One morning my father showed up at the door and handed me a trash bag. “For the dirt bank,” he said.
I looked inside the trash bag. It was filled with honeysuckle vines that had been pulled up by the roots.
Doubtful about the viability of the vines, I nevertheless planted them on the bank, watered them, and filled in the blank spaces with mulch.
I should have had more faith.
The honeysuckle quickly filled in the bare spots. The flowers that bloomed on the vines every June infused our yard with an intoxicatingly sweet smell, attracting hummingbirds and butterflies.
It was my oldest son’s responsibility to weed the honeysuckle bank, much to his displeasure. He reminded me many times that honeysuckle is an invasive species and would out-compete anything else on the bank. I believe he also invoked child labor laws.
By the time he left home for college, he appeared to be correct (about the bank). The honeysuckle was thriving, and it did out-compete most of the weeds with minimal assistance.
In our warm, humid climate, however, succession happens at a rapid rate.
In recent years, the honeysuckle became covered with noxious kudzu, and Ailanthus trees started popping up at random spots in the bank. Other weeds soon found footholds and spread. The once-beautiful honeysuckle bank was a mess.
My husband wanted to rip out everything and completely re-landscape the bank, but I am stubborn.
I spent hours tearing out weeds and digging up Trees of Heaven. I filled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow with unwanted greenery. Eventually, the honeysuckle once again bloomed.
My victory was short-lived. The weeds returned.
I became even more determined to save the honeysuckle bank. The next time, I edged around the entire bank with a hand edger, ripped out all the weeds, and mulched the entire bank to prevent the weeds from returning.
Once again, the honeysuckle bank looked good.
One day last week, I examined the honeysuckle. Weeds were sprouting in one section. I will re-weed and re-mulch the entire bank next spring, but the day was warm and sunny, and I felt the need to get my hands dirty, so I got out the wheelbarrow and started pulling.
A month ago, my niece sent me a link to a song by Janelle Monae. One line keeps going through my head over and over again. I don’t believe it is an exaggeration to say that one line has literally transformed my life.
I keep my hands dirty, my mind clean.
Since the pandemic, little and not-so-little things have been subtracted from our lives.
My husband and I are both retired. We miss the traveling we used to do. We miss going out for a beer and wings on a rainy Sunday afternoon. We miss going to the gym, meeting our friends for dinner, visiting family, congregating with our running club.
Yes, we still have a lot to be grateful for, and we know it. But if I focus on the negatives, the loss, it clutters my mind.
I need to keep my mind clean by doing something positive, even something as small and insignificant as weeding the honeysuckle bank.
I have started using “I keep my hands dirty, my mind clean,” as my running mantra, to discourage negative thoughts of self-doubt from polluting my psyche. It works. So far, I have had four stress-free long runs in a row – my longest streak since March.
I also use it in matters of faith, when I need to be reminded to keep my mind clean and focused, rather than self-righteous and cocky.
The song that contains this line (Turntables) is about social justice. When Ms. Monae sings about getting her hands dirty, she is referring to the fight for racial equity, something much more consequential than weeding.
The two areas where this new mantra has helped me so far, running and faith, are significant to me.
I feel the need, like Ms. Monae, to get my hands dirty for a cause I am passionate about. One that will help others.
I don’t know what that cause is yet, but I am keeping my mind open, listening for God’s whisper to point me in one direction.
I must be prepared to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty so that when I hear the whisper, I can take immediate action.
In the meantime, I will expend my extra energy and time on the honeysuckle bank to clean my mind. It’s looking better already.
So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. – James 2:17
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