We had love.
We had love like people have an antique vase, up high on a shelf. Or like a couple would check their apartment for appliances before making a wedding registry. Yes, we have that already. Check.
But somewhere along the road I had decided I wanted more. I wanted to feel love. I wanted love to swirl through our house, to wrap around each one of us, to give us a feeling of warmth and buoyancy, to be more alive and electric than was possible for an old vase on a high shelf. I didn’t want love, the noun. I wanted love, the verb. It was love the verb that I felt when cuddling Niko to sleep, when he told me he was certain that all those people loved him. Love was not a box he had checked. It was assurance in action, in the way faces lit up when he walked into the room. The way people glowed back at him, mirroring his light when they were with him.
Day by day, hug by hug, love became no longer something we had. It became something we did. We all became people who were now tended to.
I thought about the difference between the work of gardening and the tending of gardening. The work is strenuous. It is tiring and sometimes mindless. It could be hired out. It is essentially the checking of boxes. Raised beds built? Check. Compost ordered and delivered? Check. Seeds planted? Check.
Tending a garden is different. It is the gentle guiding of a vine over a trellis. It is watching the forecast and carefully planning when to water. It takes attention. It takes heart. It takes protection. It takes concern. It takes multiple visits to the plant to see if your actions are helping it thrive. In the tending of gardening, we see our care mirrored back to us. Work can build a garden, but tending makes it grow.
Manny and I had both signed on to do the work of building our life together, but we hadn’t known about the tending. We liked checking boxes. We liked moving along in life like it was a road, one signpost after another, showing us that we were making progress. Showing the people around us that they needn’t worry about us, because we were on the right track.
But it’s not a road. It was never a road.
It’s a garden.