A few years ago I wrote a column entitled “The Color of Mulch,” an 800-word lament recounting my atrocious decision to purchase brown mulch instead of following my wife’s very clear injunction to buy black.
That little act of independence (Krista might use a different term, such as “insurrection” or “stupidity”) resulted in 20 or 30 minutes of mild fireworks fueled primarily, if not exclusively, by my unwillingness (1) to take my better half’s perspective, (2) to concede that she was right (ouch!) that black mulch clearly looked better for our landscaping, and/or (3) to apologize. I received more emails about that one than perhaps anything else I’ve ever written. From wives the feedback leaned toward “I hope you learned your lesson!.” while from husbands it went something like “I feel your pain, brother.”
This past Saturday offered a landscaping-related glimpse, perhaps, of how far we’ve come as a couple. We had a gargantuan maiden grass plant threatening to engulf the north side of our house and the brutal winter appeared to have taken a serious toll on the heart of the plant. Unlike the green, leafy, pliable perimeter, the center was brown, short and brittle. Beautiful and majestic once, the colossus had seen better days. We were both tired of it, frankly, and agreed it was time to cut it out and start afresh in that space. No problem, I assured my beautiful bride. I’ll have it dug out and cleared before you get home from work at lunchtime on Saturday.
“Are you sure?” she asked, skeptical. “It’s going to be a pretty difficult job for one person.” (Translation: “Tim, you’re not a strapping 22-year-old anymore. The youngsters at Wendy’s apply the senior discount to your order without even inquiring about your age….”).
“Sure, honey. No problem. Consider it done,” I assured her.
“Great!” she exclaimed. “Let me show you one other thing I’d like to take care of while you’re at it.” Uh-oh. What now? I wondered. In my bravado had I consigned myself to an even larger and perhaps riskier task? She led me to our small back yard, the portion enclosed by a black wrought-iron fence.
“See this?” she asked, pointing to a sickly-looking knockout rose bush. “It’s dying. It looks awful, and we need to just take it out and move on,” she announced like a physician declaring it was probably time for family members to say their goodbyes to dear, aged, failing Aunt Agnes. “This other bush here looks fine,” she nodded toward the healthy one with crisp red buds, three feet away, “but for some reason the weather or something really did a number on this poor fella. Digging this one should only take you a few minutes—okay?”
“Sure,” I replied, relieved the “one other thing” was so simple, so easy. I smiled and began to worry just a little about the maiden grass plant.
Saturday morning I gathered the spade and the wheel barrow, put on the heavy-duty work gloves and commenced digging out the grass plant. It was, as we both suspected, labor-intensive. It took an hour or two of digging, clipping, prying, sweating, lifting, muttering and dragging, but finally the deed was done. Veni, vidi, vici. I came, I saw, I opened up a can of serious whoopin’ on the hapless miscanthus sinensis!
I took a brief break to survey my handiwork, my sweet and hard-earned victory, grabbed a glass of ice water and swaggered to the back yard with my trusty spade cradled in my hands. “I shall call you Excalibur,” I whispered to it, and knew Krista would be both surprised and pleased by my effort. Excalibur and I made quick work of the knockout rose—10 minutes, tops—and I waited, full of pride, for my Guinevere to express her approval.
A short time later she returned home, and immediately walked to the side yard to inspect my work on the now vacant patch where the grass plant had been. She smiled. I nodded. “That looks great,” she announced enthusiastically. I puffed my chest out just a little.
“No problem,” I lied. “Really.”
She ambled to the back yard to survey the space where the rosebush had been, and to contemplate further what to replace it with. I followed and awaited more praise, gazing downward in false humility. Instead, a moment of pregnant silence. That’s odd, I thought. I lifted my eyes and gazed at her body posture and sensed something amiss. And then, before the words could form on her lips, I knew: In my pride-goeth-before-a-fall idiocy I had removed the HEALTHY rosebush. Ooooooops.
I had committed roseacide. Rashly and unnecessarily killed a living thing. Confirmed in grotesque fashion that I am a moron.
I hung my head and meekly uttered repeated apologies, lame admissions that there was no excuse for this offense that was the byproduct of pride, haste and ineptitude. Krista’s shoulders slumped slightly for a moment, but to her (and God’s) great credit she recovered from the shock and disappointment almost instantaneously, quickly turning to “what should we do now?” mode.
No fireworks, no (justified) “what-on-earth-were-you-thinking?!?” remonstrations, no pouting. Just prompt and genuine forgiveness. And mutual relief that I’m a law school dean and not a surgeon.
Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in these opinion pieces are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.