Faithful in a little (Or, Thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s garden)

My home here is not really all that different than what you might see in America. We live in a decently-sized, two bedroom apartment. It’s actually quite nice. I don’t have a dryer or a car, but that just puts me on par with the majority of Europeans. (And I do have one little American luxury: a dishwasher. A small one, but still effective.) I even have some things most Americans do not—grocery stores that I walk past every time I leave my house, and decent public transportation options.

But this is my neighbor’s garden:

(A month ago when it was just starting to look like spring)

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Which I view from my own outdoor real estate:

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Once more, for comparison. (This is what it looks like today, with a little more context. It’s like an oasis.)

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Yesterday was a beautiful spring day and I was out on my balcony (hanging up laundry) and saw him out inspecting the beds that will be full of wonderful vegetables later this year, while his grandkids (I assume) played on the hammock by the house. As Ben put it one day, “I stopped for a minute to break the tenth commandment.”

It’s not the first time I’ve had that feeling. I’ve watched him and his friends share a game of Nard (the Caucasian version of old men playing checkers or dominoes together) in the garden on a nice evening. I’ve taken pictures of his ripe corn and loaded grape vines. There’s a hammock.

I love gardens and green, growing things, and the longer I live in the city the more I long to have one of my own. Not to mention the term “garden” here of necessity includes fruit trees. Mmmmm. Outdoor space here for most people is something that you travel to, enjoy in public, and then return home from. And by “enjoy” I mean, it’s taboo to walk in the grass—when there is grass—and if I (or my child) went barefoot I would be shunned out of the neighborhood. My soul craves my own “bit of earth,” as Mary from The Secret Garden would say.

As I turned back to my laundry though, my thoughts returned to their well-worn paths of lamenting how much more I have to do than I have time to do it in. And I remembered, as my two very-much-dead rose plants purchased last summer can attest, that gardens require work (and work I’m not inherently gifted at). I’ve seen my neighbor out at unreasonably early hours (for Georgians) watering his garden. I watch him work in it most days. And I grew up around gardens, I know the work behind the scenes of every green thumb. Even if I had that bit of earth, I can pretty much guarantee that I wouldn’t have managed to get anything planted in it, much less weeded and watered and fertilized. I felt accomplished yesterday because you could see the surface of my table at one point. (Not gonna lie, I’m still coasting off of that success today.) I want my bit of earth, but without the work to make it lovely.

It isn’t only outdoors that I find myself with this conundrum though. As previously mentioned, we have quite a nice apartment. It’s also not ours. I can’t hang shelves, paint, get rid of the furniture overstuffing the rooms, drill holes in the walls, or do any of the other hundreds of things that pop into my head to desire to do any time I go looking for organization tips on the internet.

I get frustrated. I ruminate on how much easier it would be to keep things clean if I could change things to be better organized. I get overrun with the desire to create a beautiful (yet somehow also functional) space for us to live in. Which leads to wondering if we’ll ever own something anywhere (which really makes no sense for us right now, but try telling that to my emotions). And then I stop and realize that there isn’t a single thing about our apartment keeping me from doing the dishes. Or sweeping the floor. Would you like to know how long it’s been since I changed the sheets? No, no you would not.

While this will come as a shock to exactly zero of the people who have ever spent a significant amount of time in a place where I live, I… am not much of a housekeeper. Forget the alphabet, “neat-freak” and “Shanna” are listed at opposite ends of the dictionary. I have been trying to learn, to create a system that helps me get things done. I’ve found it’s important to create a space that’s relaxing for my husband (who apparently came with standards) and something less than a wall-to-wall obstacle-course-filled-with-things-that-must-be-eaten for my daughter. (Her primary goal in life, however, is to ensure that such a state of order will never exist.) But it’s a struggle. And to be honest I fail more days than I succeed, and I have pretty low standards for success (see ‘table visibility’ above).

I can’t remember the last time I mopped (and this despite the fact that a 1 year old lives here) how on earth do I think I would get around to home improvement projects?

That’s the thing about coveting. It’s so easy to want the result without wanting to add to the work you already have.

So here I am, in my small space with my small balcony, learning to be faithful over a little. Perhaps I will plant a few herbs in the window sill. Perhaps I will learn to actually keep up with the cleaning schedule I made for myself. Perhaps one day you’ll be able to see the table, and the counter, and the floor all at the same time. (But I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one if I were you.)

Maybe one day I’ll have a garden, and a house that I can project on, but I hope it’s not until I’ve learned how to be faithful over the little spaces that are my life for now, because, let’s be honest, otherwise they won’t look beautiful anyway.

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