your fingers and loosen roots of young plants so they might take
desperate hold of the earth below, oblivious to their own miracle,
and I cannot help but think you are the plant for a moment, the
gardener’s labors an ironic counterpoint to the thrust of our own lives.
We will, ourselves, one day return to earth. You are oblivious to the
gentle rain that begins to fall, your posture of obeisance leaves me
momentarily speechless. I am of a memory of the ruins of Tikal, Guatemala,
where rainforest both hides and consumes the lost city of the ancient
Mayans, cilantro grows tall as trees, and cottony, plate-sized leaves of an
unfamiliar plant once served as toilet paper—or so I was told by the
guide who studied botany at the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala.
Cutter ants march in mile-long single-file bearing portions of leaves
carried like rudders on their collective journey. Above: mammals and
birds that the gods may not have intended for human viewing, or maybe
gods themselves. These pyramids do not apparently evoke the mystical.
They are instead tablets upon which are written the language of
eternity in the fingerprints of ghosts. From the base of the temple one
can smell the memory of incense, the bark of the copal tree burning,
in its thick smoke the dirt of our souls offered in rituals no one comprehends.
Here the impossibly dense, gnarled roots of great mahogany trees grow
sideways and exposed, certainly the force that holds the world in place.
I am in need of such roots. I staggered into 50 predictably unprepared to
confront the weight of years lived, to confront the face in the mirror with
as much forgiveness as is given, truly, to others. In my heart I groan
Paul’s groan in his letter to the Corinthians, the gutted anguish of the
repentant who yet faces, bending, the unrelenting indignity of each day.
I ache with the guilt of everything I have not accomplished and every
hurt done. The weight of years lived. To confront the face in the
mirror with such forgiveness as is demanded defeats me, not because
I have done anything truly unforgivable but because I am unworthy.
Forgive me, but I just realized that the source of endurance and, perhaps,
salvation itself lies in the knowledge that we are worthy, even in the
grasp of mortality and the knee-buckling humility we must finally swallow.
This is your healing, then, your skin and your soul both cleansed by
rain in this garden, your garden of faith, where we are all penitents.
--Martin A. Bartels, May 2011