It is not spring. One look at the calendar confirms it, but on this Saturday morning you could fool anybody. The branch is ringing with overlapping bird calls and the sky is baby blanket blue. The breeze is so slight as to not seem a breeze at all, but something like the close breath of a lover. There is no resisting the pull.
In shorts and a t-shirt I take a book outside to the deck and start to read. And in less than 10 minutes, I start to wheeze.
I am allergic to the ligustrum bush that grows at the corner of the house just off the edge of the deck. Eight or nine feet tall, its thick leaves stay beautifully green all year and it requires no attention except the occasional pruning to keep it from completely obscuring the bedroom window nearby. Said beauty and self-sufficiency are what have kept it alive for the ever-how-many years it's been since I discovered that its pollen, inhaled into my respiratory system, result in a significant decrease in breathing function.
What I always do, in response to the ligustrum's attack, is to sigh, gather my things and go inside. Without thinking.
But today — What is it about today?— I don't. Today I sigh, gather my things, go inside and make a decision. Today is the last day that I will be hindered, hampered, prevented, precluded. Today is the day I act.
Mama and Daddy are outside, too, duct-taping hose pipes together to irrigate some newly planted grape vines. I cross the yard and make my request: I ask Daddy, sometime when he has time, not necessarily today, just sometime, to take his chain saw — it's a big bush — down to my house and cut down the ligustrum bush.
"What about now?" he asks, just as I knew he would. "But I'll tell you this. If you just cut it down, come spring it's going to sprout back up. Why don't we just pull it up with the tractor?"
And so it is that the John Deere 7810, with the harrow still attached and a chain with links as big as ham hocks attached to that, rumbles into the yard at Sandhill to pull up a bush. It takes less than three minutes. Total.
And how many years have I wheezed and sighed?
Later, when the blue in the sky has faded to chambray and the shadows are falling from the west, I go back outside with my book and start to read. And continue reading. No wheezing. I take a deep breath. Another one.
How lovely to sit in the sunlight, feel the live stillness of the afternoon, absorb the silent tension of the earth about to be awakened.
I close my book and consider the lesson of the ligustrum. Are there others that need to be pulled up? Not pruned, not trimmed back, not cut down to sprout again, but pulled completely out of the ground and dragged away to die. I wonder what attitudes or expectations have been cutting off my breath for years, what postures I've taken or defenses I've maintained in fruitless attempts to catch my breath, what fears have made me hold my breath.
I am reminded that the Hebrew Bible uses the same word ("ruach") for both breath and spirit. What have the ligustrums of doubt and anxiety done to my spirit? What have I missed? What have I lost? Why was it so easy to just get up and go inside?
For a moment I feel smothered with regret, suffocated by anger at myself and my failure. Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.
Something draws my attention to the spot where the ligustrum used to be. Its roots were wide, but not deep. The ground is barely disturbed, turned up just enough to welcome my trowel and some new growing thing.
I raise my gaze from the hole and realize how different now is the view. The horizon has opened. I can see the road.
I close my eyes, lift my chest, expand my lungs. And, in the calm, I feel my breath, my spirit rise.