My wheelchair view of my garden from my back porch.

If the current dose of daily news isn’t enough to convince you that there’s not much about our lives that we can actually control, suddenly finding yourself bedridden (or in my case, sofa-ridden) for weeks on end, will do it. This sudden incapacitation has certainly provided me with the opportunity to examine my compulsion to control things.

Needing to depend on other people, particularly my husband, for just about everything, has served me a very unappetizing dish of humble pie. Accepting help with gratitude and appreciation means relinquishing how that help is provided. My new mantras are, “It’s good enough,” and “Beggars can’t be choosers.”

More frustrating for me has been asking for help for things that are not necessities, such as keeping up my garden. People are busy with their own lives, so why should anyone be troubled with the state of my garden? As if to rub salt in the wound, San Diego is enjoying the most ideal dose of frequent, gentle rainfall that we have seen in years. I listen to the soothing rain hitting the porch canopy, smell the fragrance of moist earth and watch nasturtiums, wild chamomile, arugula and nettle take control of my garden.

This is the time to weed! This is the time to turn the compost pile, pull the snow peas that are getting powdery mildew, stake the fava beans, and start the summer season seedlings. This is the time to exert my control on what gets to thrive in my garden!

I never thought to make my garden handicap accessible. What an eye-opener! Just navigating down the ramp from the back porch over to the table, requires help if I don’t want to go crashing into the herb garden. The dirt path to the vegetable garden has turned into a muddy mess, sabotaged by sunken gopher tunnels. I could probably navigate my wheelchair (or a walker or kneeling scooter in the near future) down the paths of pavers between the beds, but how to maneuver a hoe to weed or plant seeds? Every little task that I performed without a second thought, now seems like a logistical nightmare. When I am healed, I need to think about making my garden ADA compliant.

Last week, perched triumphantly in my wheelchair at the outside table, I started three trays of seeds for my summer garden. I was grateful for the starting soil provided, even though it wasn’t what I would have used if I could have hopped in the car and gone to buy what I wanted – coconut coir and vermiculite.

“It’s good enough,” I chanted as I carefully placed tomato, pepper and eggplant seeds in each cell of the starter trays. I had asked someone to clean the trays beforehand. But when I was ready to put the soil in them, they were not in the pristine state I knew was best for success. “Beggars can’t be choosers,” I sighed.

Isn’t something that is critical to my emotional well-being, enough of a necessity that I don’t have to feel guilty asking for help? Gardening is what keeps me sane. So why was I so reluctant to ask for help? Was it because I didn’t want to let the helper do things their own way? I was worried that I couldn’t teach without being controlling.

This week, two people appeared out of the blue to offer to help me in my garden. Francisco Nuñez posted something on the Facebook San Diego Gardener page about wanting to work in a garden in Linda Vista because he is currently living in an apartment with very limited gardening options. I took a chance on a complete stranger and responded that I have a garden that needed him as much as he needed a garden. He came by and we had a wonderful visit. I’m thrilled that his gardening experience, especially with herbs, is up to snuff. There’s plenty we can both learn from one another.

And then Mia Vaughnes, whom I had met briefly last year, sent me a text offering to come by to help! Mia is the proprietor of Good Neighbor Gardens, a business that coordinates gardeners with more harvest than they can handle, with a CSA food distribution program. She is also a gardening teacher at local elementary schools. She knows much, much more than I do about vegetable gardening!

What a delight to sit there on the porch and chat while watching her harvest the snow peas, then pull the plants for compost. She weeded the beds and swept the paths and staked one of the fava bean plants that was groveling on the ground.

Mia Vaughnes working in Jeeni's garden
What a perfect way to celebrate the first day of Spring, when Mia came to work in my garden.

And then she said something profound. She told me about caring for her grandfather in the last weeks of his life and how she felt honored to serve someone who had spent his life serving others. “It was his time to be served,” she said.

I realized, listening to her, that I need to let go of this control thing. I need to stop feeling embarassed by the generosity of others to help me when I’m down. She reminded me that I have served others, never thinking that it was an obligation. I found joy in it. And now, this is the time for me to be served and to joyously accept the kindness of others, knowing that it makes them feel relevant.

Over the coming weeks and months, while sharing the knowledge and insight I’ve acquired, I’m also open to receiving what you can offer, in the way you choose to offer it. I don’t claim to know the only way to do things, nor have the only perspective that is valid. I’ve learned as much from people who just looked at a problem and figured out a solution, as I’ve learned from folks who have studied sufficiently to earn a string of capital letters after their name.

I don’t claim that anything I know just sprouted independently from my brain. The gardener in me knows the seed had to come from somewhere.

What a relief it is to rid myself of this burden of having to control how things are done, when in the end, I’m learning, the only thing we can really control, is letting go of the illusion of it.

3 Thoughts on “In Control by Letting Go”

  • Jeeni – It’s 5:55am on March 26 and I just woke up and read your lovely, insightful and inspiring piece about letting go. I loved it! And I’m eternally grateful for the opportunity to spend time with you and do a few little things in your garden. I am a single woman and a sucker for love, and there is so much love in your environment that you have nurtured and created…that’s why everything flourishes despite your temporary inability to get to it. You had a substantial snap pea harvest, and despite the powdery mildew, they were sweet as ever with plenty of promising flowers. The chickens were so grateful and I enjoyed feeding them the tendrils. Your lovely neighbor graced me with a fabulous tip for using the yeast from the broccoli leaves to make sourdough starter, and even gave me a jar to feed and use! The stories and things that you shared about your husband and his love and support of you touched me so deeply. There is nothing that I or the whole world needs more than to bask in the brilliant glow of a couple in love, no matter the age or circumstance. I enjoyed exchanging smiles, laughs and thoughts with you all and I truly thank all of you for the opportunity to serve. Oh, and for the WORMS! The children at Carson Elementary and Hawking Charter school got to take them home to begin their own begin their very own kitchen compost experiment. You would be pleased to know that they even gave the worms their own name.

    PS. Today is my birthday and I just read this verse: “Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and give his life as a ransom for many” – Matt 10:28. I realize that’s what we and every living organism is here to do. This is life and I am delighted and grateful. Thank you for helping to give my life its meaning.

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