The summer after my junior year in college, I interned at a graphic design firm, in the marketing department. It was a firm in which my dad had consulted a few years prior and where he’d been dubbed “Analogy Man” due to his (over)use of analogies. I remember pride blooming in my chest, the image of him striding through that open office, suit jacket fluttering behind him like a cape. Analogy Man. Like a super hero of words. I was still young enough to imagine him bigger than he actually was, bigger than life. Inflated by awe. He still has that effect on me sometimes.
He is undoubtedly the reason why I lean so heavily on analogies and why I celebrated the fact that I could actually take an all-analogies test in order to get into graduate school, the only standardized test that I ever did well on. Ryan reminded me that it was called the Miller Analogies Test. Every time I think about it, I have a surge of gratitude.
Whenever I am going through a difficult time, I always find myself reaching for analogies. Since I was raised by Analogy Man, I find them easily accessed and helpful. For whatever reason, they often seem to center on gardening… these are especially helpful when used to describe a particularly difficult time. But I don’t even really like gardening. I mean, I like the idea of it and I like how it looks when it’s over, but I don’t really love the middle part of actually doing it. I do, however, really appreciate all of the ripe metaphors that gardening can offer for our real lives.
Clearing the dead leaves and debris, pulling weeds, trimming back overgrowth. It just illustrates such an accurate picture of what a painful life season can feel like… the figurative perfectly describing the literal.
We are in this place right now. It’s the crappy, sweaty, back-breaking work that comes before the pretty, colorful, easier job of planting flowers and watering. And sometimes, when you are clearing away the old, dead things from your world, you find things that you didn’t know existed. The new growth, under all of the old stuff, that has been working and growing beneath the soil, reaching for sunlight. You had no idea that these little things were underneath… and yet there they are.
When Ryan lost his job last month, we found ourselves amidst a messy, overgrown garden. We’d been there for a while, we just hadn’t noticed it. Once we did, we looked around and realized that we had been given an opportunity to clear away some old debris… you know, the life-garbage that accumulates over time, so slowly you don’t even realize it. Habits, labels, assumptions. They had piled up over the years and they started to feel like rigid limitations, like we had boxed ourselves into a corner that we might not want to be in anymore.
And so the toxic What Ifs that we had been asking ourselves (the very questions that perhaps allowed this mess to grow unchecked in the first place) in regards to past decisions (What if we hadn’t moved to Georgia?) and future dread (What if this doesn’t all work out?). Turned into healthier What Ifs… What if we do something different? What if you tried something new? What if we make a decision from excitement or faith or trust, instead of fear?
We were raking away the nasty, slimy, dead leaves and we found that there were these tender, green shoots coming up despite the shade and muck and crud. Ryan had set up an LLC last summer and had tiptoed down the consulting path. Having often been told that he isn’t naturally creative, isn’t prone toward being an entrepreneur, that he might not have what it takes— he never felt comfortable there. Those negative messages have a way of taking root, growing up like a weed, strangling the healthy branches. It was time to pull them out, get rid of them forever.
As we cleared away the old, we started noticing all the beauty in the garden of our lives. There are colors everywhere, as it turns out, deep roots, lush green leaves. We talked about every time that Ryan has lost a job, he has gotten up, made a list, made the phone calls, created something from nothing. Gritty, determined, focused… making a job of finding a job. Not unlike starting a business. Planting seeds, tending to them, watering, weeding. Creating something where there once was nothing. Who says that creative has to involve paint or clay or stories? Creative involves creating and, once we started cleaning up, the garden was more beautiful than we could have imagined.
And as we stopped letting the negative words take root, once we started weeding quickly— as soon as we saw an unwanted thought start to weave its way into our flowers, we started to see everything get healthier, we watched new things sprout, we saw it all come to life. Ryan got a consulting job. And then two more popped up. Interviews were set up, second interviews, trips into offices to meet more people.
Whatever happens, whether Ryan’s consulting career takes off or he lands a permanent position, something good has been planted.
I’m always so surprised at the hardiness of plants. My instinct it to treat them with great care and gentleness, to barely touch them, assuming they are too fragile to withstand my hands. The reality is they are tougher than I imagine them to be, growing despite a variety of problems. This is what I’m learning about us as well. We are stronger than I once imagined. Surviving great shocks, disappointments, frustrating circumstances.
There are moments in life that stay with me because of their poignancy, where I can remember the sounds, the way the light was in the room, the feel of it all. Sitting in our bedroom, in the moments after Ryan told me that he lost his job, will be one of them. And not because of the tragedy of it alone, but because it’s where something bigger and stronger, something new was born. Where I held the delicate truth of the man I love so deeply, feeling the strength of our marriage and how desperately we would need each other in the coming weeks. Telling him a different truth. You are stronger than you know. You are creative because you have already created something beautiful.