My neighbor from across the street was a hairdresser in his former life. Today he tweaks his garden. And I mean that literally. Shortly after eight o’clock in the morning, his equipment starts screeching when he gives his boxwood trees a new fancy cut. First, he puts a hairdresser’s cape around the trunk (no joke!). Then he goes to work with a loud cutting device and then he uses scissors for fine tuning his work. The results of all of this work are annoyed neighbors and perfectly round bushes.
While he transforms his garden into a park that would have every gardener from the Baroque age turn pale full of envy, his wife roars away to the church in her SUV. Or she takes a pilgrimage, on the path of St James. Its distance is certainly long enough to last their entire retirement time.
Six months ago, we moved into the former home of my childhood with our children and two dogs. My husband asked the neighbor, who felled more than one tree on our property with her fast driving style, for a little consideration. It was like talking to a dead tree. Since then, however, the hairdressers no longer greet us. He has all the right to recklessly run his car through our drive way, but we would have to take responsibility for our children and dogs, because after all, there are leashes and fences for both.
It’s somehow amazing. For the childless couple had once in the past agreed to lead my Catholic baptized sister through the trials and tribulations of her first communion, which she might not have survived undamaged in an otherwise Protestant family. In those years, my little sister had to go to church at least once a week, attending confession and convulsively suck any offenses out of her nine-year-old fingers. The reward was a dry cake garnished with a picture of a saint.
Last year my mother died after a long illness. On the day of the funeral my father received a letter from the praying coiffures. It stated that a mass has been read in Africa, for my deceased Mother. My father’s reaction: “A bouquet of flowers would have been nice. Or at least one visit when she was sick.”
And there it is again, the medieval thought. Can you buy your way out of your offenses? Is this a modern indulgence trade? All my neighbors and friends said goodbye to my mother in their last weeks and days. She was at home – a stone’s throw away from the perfect box trees. I thank everyone who devotes a little time to sick people, who offer them a little distraction from suffering. I thank those who are not too sorry to face an approaching death.
But I am ashamed for all of those who think they have proven their human compassion by a forced march or a donation of money to a church or to anyone else, for that matter. No. We humans live on encounters. Personal words. Memories.
I don’t care what my garden looks like. Our bushes grow as creation wants them to grow. There’s a lot of laughter on our terrace. Talk. Tears. Thoughts. Honestly, even talk about the procurement of an immense Fire cracker. Let’s see what a little firework can do to a boxwood tree.
Silke Porath lives together with her French husband in their home of choice in Balingen, on the border of the swabian Alps. Born in 1971, the mother of three children works as a freelance Journalist and Writing teacher. Trained as both an editor and PR consultant, she is a member of the “42erAutoren”, the association of German writers and the Group of 48.