Today started as a lonely, almost depressing day. It was cool and closed-window quiet. My soul-sister friend of nine years is dying of brain cancer, and as I engage with the world, every move is tempered by her own daily disengagement from it. As Andre is closing in, she teaches us all.


The Blessing of Tomatoes
by Beth Waterhouse from a Journal Entry, 9/6/99


Today started as a lonely, almost depressing day. It was cool and closed-window quiet. My soul-sister friend of nine years is dying of brain cancer, and as I engage with the world, every move is tempered by her own daily disengagement from it. As Andre is closing in, she teaches us all.

I ate french toast, using the last of a loaf of bread before even one piece molded, which was its own small victory. I wrote a long thoughtful letter, rammed around all morning, ate half a sandwich, and finally decided to spend a few hours at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Still restless there, I hiked up to a shrub rose garden and snoozed in the sun on a wooden slat bench. I awoke and walked farther, into the heat of the prairie.

Finally something lifted. What was it? ...and I was able to walk toward people, toward a cup of coffee and a delicious piece of blueberry pie. It helps so much to simply believe that such a lift will occur. Knowing that, I can humor myself, shift my patterns, walk or sleep in the light, and finally, in its own time, the lift happens.

I realize now that my mood did not entirely relax and center in until after picking tomatoes. I work a garden on the neighboring Excelsior Nursing Home lawn, using their soil and water supply and sharing the produce with their kitchen staff. Once home from the Arboretum, I went down to our garden for one cucumber for my salad, yet for some reason I took the picking basket. I ended up filling the basket to the brim with cherry, roma, and big boy tomatoes, three cucumbers, a scattering of broccoli, two jalapeno peppers, and a bunch of fresh parsley. It then seemed obvious that I should share with the Home ladies, and sure enough, god happened right there in their front room.

I spoke to two women of German descent, both whose parents had come over from Germany. After learning that I am half-German, one launched off into the German language, and although I didn't understand a word, it did bring back memories of my great uncles. The German woman had a big smile on her face. I offered sun-warmed tomatoes from my basket to surprised women. They asked for them. One offered to pay for two and I said, "No, they're free, they’re from your garden." "We have a garden?" she queried. One pretty darker-haired woman was sitting quietly and when I motioned toward a tomato, she raised her eyebrows and made a circling motion with one finger near her right ear. I'm not sure if she was saying she is crazy or that I am crazy but I surely didn't care. She took a cherry tomato and popped it into her mouth.

The tomato goddess followed me home where I filled the next three hours cooking a whole vat of various-sized tomatoes down to two quarts of spicy tomato sauce. What a mess I can make in this small kitchen! Then, finally I made the longed-for salad, half a bagel, and here I am, sipping Rose' wine. Finally my body and mind are both content. It took a lot today. A lot of tomatoes.

Giving helps the most. The garden connects me to the soil and to my neighbors and to the hearts of women who likely grew tomatoes all their lives. Yet the tomatoes worked best after the Arboretum's spacious skies had already lifted that inner cloud. This evening there is no cloud. I am simply Beth and I believe in Beth and in homemade tomato sauce and in neighbors, and in the power of the particular covey of angels that has chosen me as their project. I help them the most when I free-associate, stay quiet and float through intuitive choices of the day, letting the trees or the cardinal or the sight of small children or dahlias or a basket of tomatoes or elder German ladies speak to me. This is how I listen. This is how I learn. And all the while I root myself.

I grow rooted to this building and my breezes and views and to my neighbors and their patterns. The harvest roots me even deeper than the act of planting and growing seeds, which felt so very good in June. I create expectations that I will garden again next year-- the responsibility and visibility of that garden space hold me accountable and I am unable to abandon it. Clearly this small effort has marked my summer, given me practice and hope and the gift of giving back.

Meanwhile, Andre is still dying and I will die too one day, but my deepening belief in the love of my angels, sneaky and subtle as they are, helps me feel that there is a job description out there for me one day, and soon for Andre as well. She will make a good angel.

Note: My good friend, Andre Denny Carlson, died of cancer on September 26, 1999—just three weeks after this journal entry was made. She is remembered through dance and by her son Denny and husband Jon Carlson. She has already made a good angel.