It was winding down to be a quiet evening. The last of the suits racing home from work in their slick cars while joggers in neon began to speckle the sidewalks at the same tenacity as bugs emerging from their daytime hovels. I decided to take advantage of the lingering light like the rest of them, and brought my boyfriend’s dog out for a walk around the nearby golf course. It was the first decent walk I had taken since winter had hit, if you minus the few dog park excursions for Kodak. I wasn’t sure who of us was more appreciative of the fresh air, Kodak or myself.
We kept to our regular jaunt: up the side of the golf course to just before the entrance, then back the way we came. Only a few straggler golfers remained and even less by the time we reached the gate.
The mountains that streak the eastern horizon have always been my favorite thing about this city. There is only a small window of time when the sun hits them just right and they take on a pink hue as if they are blushing from the attention. We stood a moment, Kodak and I, at the halfway point of our walk, watching the nearly perceptible change of light against them. I looked but didn’t really see. My mind was stuck in a state of depression caused by the expectations I had been holding of myself. The fashionable “impostor syndrome” had set up shop in my mind over the last few days and it was taking its toll, laying claim to every quiet moment I reserved for myself. Leaving me feeling vulnerable. Like those dreams you have when you are standing in front of a crowd in nothing but your underwear and everyone is laughing and pointing. Only, I was fully clothed. And no one was laughing.
I left my hapless reverie just in time to catch the last of the fading pink as it settled to its usual gray. At that moment the mountain took on the colors of a nearly over-done steak. Food. I had nearly forgotten! It was nearing dinner time and I was expecting my boyfriend in a few minutes. Kodak and I took one last look before turning around and heading home.
We made our way back to the apartment with the chain link fence running to our left. It followed me just as persistently as the dog at my heels. But, before I had made it to the end of the block, I was abruptly stopped by a large shadow crossing my path. Standing along the fence was a large Viburnum bush wrapping itself around the links in an insufferable hug. It’s insolence caught me off guard. It wasn’t that the sight was anything out-of-the-ordinary. Bushes grow entwined in fences everywhere. It was how it completely altered its surroundings — swallowing the fence top to bottom with a voracious green. It reminded me of the comically blob-like trees children paint in art class then rush home to give to their parents with green-stained fingers. And then I understood what it was that made me appreciate the sight. The chain link fence, meant to divide and designate the drab apartment complex from the ritzy golf course, was itself divided and designated. It stood smaller, staccato-ed by this simple naive plant and for some reason, that made me smile.
I carried on the rest of the week as usual, sans dog walk, with insistent cats as my alarm clock, late morning breakfasts of yesterday’s leftovers, and an endless stream of large headline news stories to layout and place on tomorrow’s paper. My mood not seeing much improvement in the interim. Working at a newspaper didn’t offer much relief. Its hard not to get disheartened or become overly cynical when you work at a newspaper. Even as just a page layout designer. You begin to see the true face of humanity. How do you respond when the rhetoric of the world is always Us vs. Them? And what do you say to those who are trampled over by the bigger man? Anything?
The longer I sat and let those thoughts revolve in my mind the more I found myself circling back to the image of the bush and fence — that singular Viburnum plant and its tenacity to drone out the thing meant to hold it back. It was more than just a botanical display of survival, it was an image of hope for me.
I couldn’t help but think of the obstacles I had been facing in the last few weeks — a feeling of unworthiness to God, the inadequacy I felt as a designer and artist, the knowledge that I was losing touch with my friends — obstacles that I had in fact been building in front of myself all the while in a state of complete obliviousness. I had been standing behind these walls long enough that the shadows were making it hard to see what life was like without them and I was making no effort to try, in fact, I was adding a brick everyday. If I planned on reclaiming those quite moments of gazing at the mountain in awe from the grips of my depression I needed to take a page from the Viburnum’s book and stand above it all.
The fences we build, whether they are personal, racial, spiritual, or in our relationships, can always be overcome. Just like the bush, it may take time. It may endure scorching sun, strong winds, freezing rain, but yet it persists. And so must we. Until all self-doubt or hatred is gone. Until we can stand above our walls and look each other squarely in the eye, as equals, and admit we were wrong. Besides, the view is much better up there anyways.
It was time I tried to peek over my own fences. The only way I was going to do that was if I was willing to make a few small changes. At mealtimes I left a bible on the table so that in the few minutes I took to eat, I spent a few more minutes adding God in my life than I had previously. I even tried to pair down the amount of time I spent on social media to no more than twenty minutes a day and decided to fill what remained with my art. Because if we become too busy promoting our lives who is the one living it? And if we continue to focus on the work of others, what work will we complete?
Though I wasn’t noticing any dramatic change I did come to sense a general feeling of contentment. I felt more at ease. With myself. With the day. I knew I was far from reaching the top and knew that there would be days I would fall back down, scrape my knees, and falter, but at least I was making my way. And I would do my best to continue.
As I look back at it, part of me feels quite ridiculous that I should use a bush as some example of moral code. After all, its just a plant. But I think a lot of our human nature is veiled in nature itself. And sometimes it takes a gentle reminder from the world around us, be that from a magnificent storm or a simple everyday plant, to realize just how strong we can be. So now when I feel small or doubt what I can do, I take a moment to remember the Viburnum.