With the sweet reflection of late middle age, I will mark the 20th anniversary of my first day of permanent residence in New Brunswick this coming October. This thought astonishes, as much as terrifies, me.
When did that happen? It seems only a week ago when my wife and I trundled down the highway from Halifax, with a trunk full of clothes and books, to set me up in a dingy hotel room on the banks of the Petitcodiac.
There I was with a drawer brimming of socks and underwear and 24 bottles of the cheapest beer our dwindling bank account could support. We were 35 years old and – having lost our first life thanks to a sectoral recession that effectively made economic nomads of every journalist I ever knew in this region – looking for a new, main chance.
Eventually, we found an apartment to lease, then a house to rent, then, finally, a home to own. And we’ve never been happier.
Here is where we finished raising our children; supporting their dreams and ambitions, cradling their professional aspirations, delighting in their marriages.
Here is where we also fell desperately in love with our four grandchildren.
To be clear, none of this was supposed to happen. We were doomed, we had thought, to an endless circuit of small-town opportunities, operating almost like grifters from the Dirty Thirties: Hey folks, roll up and check out the three-card Monte table that is the confidence game of our talents.
That wasn’t actually true, of course, but for years it felt that way. Would we ever land, ever know friends again? Would we ever root ourselves, finally?
One hard, March day in 2006, we surveyed the gravel driveway that was our backyard at that time. We peered at one another and wondered aloud: Does this wreckage have to look this way, be this way, spite us in its ugliness and uselessness?
Within 24 hours, we were out there with shovels and spades, digging deep into the ground, building beds for planting, making room for roses and weeping crab trees, ditch flowers and campanula, bleeding hearts and day lilies, witchy yarrow and supernatural dahlias.
It was, to be sure, one of the biggest leaps of faith we had taken together since our marriage at age 20: Can we make this impossible garden thrive?
When you look at your life over half-a-century, you don’t tend to imagine it as a script played out for other people’s edification or. But it is. It always will be. We are as responsible to one another as we are to the plants in our various gardens.
We either tend our kids and our parents with affection, or we face the certainty of their withering souls. We either tend our communities with love and faith, or we risk losing them to random acts of hopelessness, crime and dissolution.
Coming to Moncton taught me this in the reaches of a backyard garden where everything now blooms (with a little help from organic fertilizer).
As William Blake once wrote long ago, “To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower. Hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour.”
In this province, at this time, we can either allow our flowers to prosper or we can abandon all hope to the terrifying proposition that aging necessarily equals retreat, that the status quo, with all its weeds, will inevitably choke the life from this fragile planting bed.
Or we can remake ourselves.
We can be young again.