“Hi,” the woman said shyly. “I’m calling about a butterfly garden. I saw your ad in the paper.”
More than a decade has gone by since I received that phone call. I still remember how I felt.
“I live on a fixed income due to a disability,” the woman added. “I was wondering if I could get a small butterfly garden and how much that would cost.”
I remember how I felt then, but the way I feel now is much more powerful. I feel terrible about the way I handled that call.
The woman told me where she lived. I had heard of the place, but didn’t know much about it. I knew only that the people who lived there had some type of mental problems.
I talked with my gardening mentor who encouraged me to go see the woman. I wish I had taken his advice. I can’t remember who else I consulted with, but I was most certainly influenced in the other direction.
The woman called several times telling me how much she loved butterflies. I told her the price for a small garden. She explained that she received her check each month and asked if she could make monthly payments.
People said things like, “those people who live there are crazy,” and I vaguely recall one person telling me that I would be making a mistake to get involved with someone like that. I concluded that the woman wouldn’t be able to pay like she said she would. I assumed several things that today I am not proud of. I chose not to meet with her.
As I write, I really can’t believe that was me.
I wasn’t going to write about this memory when I began this post, which is one of my many challenges in writing. I’ll start a story or some type of tale and the next thing I know, I’ll be back in time, ten or twenty years into my past.
I wanted to tell you about my dream of creating a healing garden for people fighting and living with mental illness. A place for healing and community to happen.
I wanted to tell you about an outdoor bed of hay framed with sunflowers and chocolate cosmos laced around the pillow shams.
Sometimes the past meets the present and I get lost somewhere in the middle.
The apartments where the woman lived is a thriving community today, as it was when she called me all those years ago, back when life was much easier for me. Back when I thought the problems those people had would never be ones I would face. Oh no! Not me or my family.
I was terribly wrong and completely ignorant.
Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It can strike any person, any family and in any place.
Ten years after I turned down the woman’s beautiful and brave request, I found myself at the same apartment building where she had wanted her little butterfly garden.
I was there applying for my adult son to get an apartment in that community.
I had forgotten about that phone call until one day when I went to visit my son there. Several of his neighbors came outside. We walked around the building together finding many places where we could plant, of all things, a butterfly garden. The memory slapped me in the face.
I realized that my son was one of those people.
My bright intelligent son who had superior verbal skills by age three, was a good student other than talking too much from being bored, was in a grand way always enthusiastic about life, winning school awards in science and later in kayaking, was struck with a mental illness.
Today, I am a woman who must sometimes say, “I live on a fixed income due to a disability.”
Today, I realize, I am one of those people too.
Turns out we are all the same and always were. The differences I imagined came from cultured misconceptions of immunity derived from ignorance and stigma.
Thank you for visiting my blog,