Digging and filling holes
by Don Hartness
She was the owner of the most beautiful garden in all of town. Many would stroll by her property, adoring her wide assortment of flowers and bushes while experiencing tranquility. On this day, I saw her standing in the middle of her garden, shovel in hand. A few randomly dug holes bore testimony to the sweat on her brow.
“What are you doing?” I asked with slight amusement.
She raised her head from digging and sized me up. “Digging,” she flatly replied.
“Yes, I can see that,” I grinned in reply to her retort. “But why?”
“Can’t you smell it?” she asked incredulously.
I paused as I inhaled deeply. The faintest whiff of sewage made my nose curl.
“At first I thought it was coming from somewhere far off,” she said in response to my reaction, “and then I thought it was the neighbors. At one point I thought it was a friend that came to visit! But now…” she paused, as she waved her hand at the garden, “I’m certain it’s coming from underneath. Where, though, is the problem.”
“How long have you been doing this?”
“I started this morning.”
My eyes widened as I looked at each hole. The holes were at least a couple of feet deep in each spot, and it wasn’t even midday yet. “You did all of this today!?”
She blushed slightly. “Well, I’m very dedicated to a task once I start. Besides, the smell is driving me crazy. I just want to get it out of here.”
Even with diligence, I saw that the task could take days, even weeks. “Want some help?” I inquired.
It was her turn for surprise. “You would do that for me?”
I nodded. “It’s a beautiful garden. The sooner we find where this smell is coming from, the sooner we can return it to its original beauty.” With that simple statement, I grabbed a shovel.
We worked together for the rest of the day, and into the next. My amazement grew with each passing hour. Not only did she have a variety of pickaxes, shovels, and other excavation tools, but she used them with a deftness of skill rarely seen. It was everything I could do to simply keep up.
“I see you’ve done this before,” she said at one point as I mirrored her skill. I simply nodded.
“You’re not the only one to discover muck beneath the surface of a garden. It’s a common malady today.”
With each hole, we knew we were getting closer to the source of the smell. I occasionally wondered what she would do once we discovered the source. If it was something solid, we might be able to excavate it. However…
“I see something!” she exclaimed at the end of the third day. I dropped my shovel and peered into the hole she was digging, my fears confirmed.
“Just as I thought,” I said with a sigh. “It’s sewage.”
“What do we do?” she asked in alarm, as a look of panic spread across her face.
I pondered the question for a few moments while pinching my nose. Even if we scooped it out, we wouldn’t have a place to put it, nor would this solve the problem of source. As with other projects, although there were a variety of tools for getting down into the depths, there were few solutions once the mess was found.
“I might have an idea,” I said while stepping away from the stench. “I know somebody who can help with this sort of thing. But it’s getting late. We can discuss it in the morning.”
“Well, thanks for all of your help,” she said, a strange statement, considering the project wasn’t finished. I could see a growing anxiety on her countenance, which she did her best to hide. “Good night!” she exclaimed, as she hurried inside, without bothering to wait for my farewell.
The next morning, I returned to find the hole filled as she began digging a new hole.
“What are you doing?!” I asked in surprise and frustration. “We already found the source! Why did you fill the hole?”
She waved me away with her hand. “No, no, that wasn’t it. I’m sure of it. So, I filled it.”
I was stunned. “What do you mean?? Couldn’t you smell…”
She whirled on me, her eyes flashing with anger. “I SAID THAT WASN’T IT!!” She hesitated in embarrassment while she composed herself. “Look,” she began again, “I do appreciate your help, I really do. But maybe it’s best if you just let me do this myself, okay?”
I simply stood there, unsure of what I should do. Part of me wanted to do what she suggested out of frustration that all of our work was for naught. Yet, part of me wanted to stay. Her behavior was definitely not normal. I feared that, if left on her own, she might never get to the root of the problem, destroying her beautiful garden in the process.
In the end, I picked up my shovel again. “Okay, I’ll take your word for it: that wasn’t it. I’ll keep helping.” My response surprised her, but she said nothing, appreciating my company.
This pattern continued for weeks. Sometimes I would return to find a hole filled. Other times, she would interrupt our efforts and move to a different spot when it became clear we were getting close. I tried everything I could to get her to just look and see the muck for herself. No matter how much I pleaded, she wouldn’t face the facts.
In time, the garden became ruined. The effort broke her.
As you may have guessed, the above is an analogy for a span of time I shared with someone special. In my next post, I’ll extrapolate the lessons learned.