One never knows the potency of love until one has been brought low.
I was reminded of this on Sunday as I sat by the bedside of a life-long friend who had for nine days walked a bumpy road of recovery from cardiac surgery. ‘Forgive me, I’m going to cry a lot today’, my friend warned at the outset. And he did. We did.
‘The body of Christ has been phenomenal … overwhelming.’ He groped and did not find all the words he required. As I entered his room, an attractive and bright-eyed African-American woman of substance had just departed his and his wife’s Caucasian company. ‘She’s our pastor’, my friend’s beloved explained. We luxuriate for a moment in the unspoken beauty of how human need and divine touch unite the broken and invigorate the shattered.
‘I’ve had heart surgery … and I’ve had heart surgery’, my friend told me.
Ah, yes, the potency of love when one has been brought low. ‘I’ve been struck a hard blow’, my friend’s drug-addled voice had said through the phone lines two days earlier when he asked if I could drive to Chicago, to his hospital, towards his struggling heart.
When the blow struck me, I was quickly dunked into a tank filled with the love of a Sunday School class I team-teach at Indianapolis’ Church at the Crossing. The class is attended by what one demurely calls an ‘elevated demographic’. Many of these friends could be my father or mother.
It is an affectionate, laughing, learning group of human beings who gather Sunday mornings for company and instruction. But when the blow fell, it became a means of grace. It quietly rose up to its full stature of loving potency. It surrounded and loved.
Sandro sits in the front row, a 6 foot, 2 inch, mildly-accented coiled wire of wit and commentary wanting nothing so much as to give back.
Now Sandro stands in my garden, sweating heavily under a hot Midwestern sun, garden clips in hand. Sandro is on a mission. Sandro is giving back.
Sandro was an Italian or is an Italian or will always be an Italian or will never again be completely Italian. It is impossible to know.
He’s been in this country a long time. He’s married. He’s raised a family. He’s worked his way to stable, suburban self-sufficiency. With his wife, he has retired early so that they might give themselves to tasks they find more meaningful than the ones that have occupied them to date.
Sandro, I discovered not a week ago, is a master gardener. A call is made. Sandro and Roselinda appear in the front garden of this old house to help me understand what grows there and what I must do about it all.
Sandro and I pull weeds, risk savagery against perennials in the confidence that a new Spring will unmake our excess. We separate. We irrigate. We relocate, we dig holes, we plant things, we fill up holes, we trim trees, we shear bushes, we lean our creative weight against chaos and steeply into order.
How this fine Indiana soil loves a garden. How this old house needs one.
Sandro will be back, of this I am sure. My garden has not seen the last of his fearsome spade.
Yet Sandro has done his best work already. His pupil knows what a hosta is.
His student can no longer pass one by as it slowly strangles in the unyielding grip of ground cover that does not obey its purpose, vines who covet this hosta-claimed little space and will simply take it if not stopped. I move quickly now to rescue hostas, a word and a creature I did not know a week ago. Horticulturally challenged, I am become a one-man Hosta Rescue Agency, lacking only a fast red car with emergency lights atop it.
This is Sandro’s work. At this old house.