Its Valentines Day. I am supposed to meet my classmates at Grounds for Healing, but I am having trouble finding it. I am in an unfamiliar neighborhood. The neighborhood is run down and there is trash in the yards of quite a few of these homes, the home directly across from this school that I am sitting at has a couch and garbage piled a couple of feet high in their front yard.
I think I must be lost.
I leave to get into an area where there is more people, I pull up to a fast food restaurant and call a class mate and she tells me that it must be at the school, to go back and wait, she says that she will be late.
I go back to the ugly little school; I drive around the school and do not see any garden. I do not see any classmates either.
It is now 10 minutes until we are all suppose to meet.
I can’t be the ONLY early bird.
I drive around the other side of the school and I see this woman in her vehicle. She must here to let us into the “secret” garden.
I continue to write in my journal after I park near her.
The school has bars on the windows.
Wow, what a place for a school. Surrounded by garbage filled yards and bars on the windows. I am not sure what is in store for me.
A few more classmates show up, we walk towards the “garden”, The garden lies on the side of the school, down a wide pathway past the dumpsters. Along the pathway is a mural painted by the students of the school.There is a gated area at the end of this pathway the gate is unlocked and to get in to the “garden” you must try and avoid the puddle of water in the entrance. The gardens water source is badly damaged and there is flooding. Weeds, oh my gosh! There are so many weeds.
The woman there that unlocked the garden gate is named Linda. She instructs us to fill out some paperwork. I look around and see all these cats. Wild, skinny, dirty cats. I smell their urine in the garden. As I fill out my papers, I glance around and think about the expectation of the garden that I had when I had signed up to volunteer here.
It isn’t at all what I had expected. What I had envisioned was this beautiful garden, partly indoors or like a greenhouse, raised beds with smiling children kneeling at them while digging to plant seeds. It was a quiet and peaceful garden, so beautiful and clean, I could even hear the birds chirping and the buzz of the bees. I could almost smell the fragrance of all the herbs and flowers and the fresh turned soil.
This garden however, was flooded, smelled like ammonia and full of weeds.There was trash that scattered about and stray cats that used it for a litter box. There were more weeds than any other plant and it was so cold,damp and overgrown.
How could this be the garden to help heal small children who had experienced trauma?
How was this garden going to be healing to anyone while it is in this condition? Now, I understood my purpose here more than ever before.
Linda speaks of the children who come here. They are 99% below poverty she tells us. They have seen and experienced horrible things and this garden has been a sort of refuge for some of them.
It has been here for 10 years and use to be nothing before that, no grass or trees or plants of any kind existed before it.
There are some painted rocks the surround the garden; she tells us that they are painted by kids who have lost a family member to violence.
As I fill out my paper work and watch a stray cat lap up a drink from the flooded earth, I listen to a story that Linda tells of a little boy who was awaken in the middle of the night and then lined up with his siblings to watch his father shot in the face 7 times.
Then to be told by his fathers’ killer that he, like his siblings would be next, the killer promises he would return on their next birthday to kill each one of them. This is a story of one of the little boys that at one time came or still comes to this garden.
The same garden that I sit in, surrounded by leaky pipes that flood the grounds, with the smell of cat urine, filled with weeds and some trash, that lies behind an ugly little school with bars on its windows and the garbage filled yards of the homes that surround it.