The Courtyard

Peyton Foley - Ecuador


April 7, 2013

I rest on the edge of a school courtyard wall. It appears ready to crumble, as if my weight were actually centering the worn bricks and pinning them together less they slide apart like Jenga blocks. The other, less fortunate walls lay fallen in the aged courtyard, scattered by time. Below my perch rest the cabbages, carrots, lettuce, and onions that finally grew big. I can’t help but feel fascinated by the cabbages as their leaves, wide and catching, guide crystal droplets of water cast by the sprinkler towards their bases and down into the spongy soil. It is extraordinarily beautiful to see how they have learned to be the best they can be, designed without intention by the passage of time.

The graveyard of old brick walls that lines my garden traps beneath it an assortment of sweet and sour candy rappers, government distributed milk cartons, and black plastic bags. These modern forms of waste stick out like sore thumbs against the dirt, rock, and clay, and appear eager to be released from beneath the rubble so they can wisp away to their proper place, wherever that may be. On the other hand, water has laid little heaps of garbage to rest between and at the bases of my garden plants and I fear that these sad souls are far too soggy for flight. I find myself in the old part of the school, further back, to the side, and down from where the teachers and students usually reside. Hardly anyone wanders to this place because of its apparent lack of function, reserving it as a haven for tired old pigeons and myself. One brick wall, the shortest, runs adjacent to the outer cobblestone street. Just out of sight, the top of this wall is crowned by broken glass bottles held firmly in cement. I challenge anyone to attempt to scale the wall and unsettle my cabbage.

Tall weeds tread through the soil and creep up behind me, peering over my shoulder as if to catch a couple of words from E.B White’s book of essays that rests in my lap. Disappointed, for this book reads like neither Charlotte’s Web nor Stuart Little, the plants shift their attention back to the massacre below. For that is what took place, is it not? This man, strange and uninvited, came to mutilate and pull from the ground full plant families, upright citizens of the old courtyard community, only to replace them with high maintenance foreigners in neat and perfectly unnatural little rows. And how foolish he is, they must think. How foolish to walk around the little old courtyard watering these cabbages, carrots, lettuce, and onions, when the plants that once grew in their place did so without the help of a strange and uninvited man.

Through the patch of tall weeds, children’s cries escape from the play yard above. They reach me as if through both time and space, because although this place ages and crumbles, some unknown force separates it from the external where televisions and microwaves exist. I doubt if even the omnipresent universe of information invisible to the naked eye called Wifi penetrates the sacred boundary that conceals this place. Beyond the children, the play yard, and the mountains in the distance, floats a massive fluffy cloud, the best type for creating animals and faces. I peer up and it grins at me while the sun kisses my face.

I realize suddenly as I examine the scene closely that I sit in the middle of a three dimensional, three hundred and sixty degree work of art. No one will pay a fortune for this, like some do for works by Monet or Dali. Besides, who would they pay? Even if god were a separate entity from you and me, and did create this place, I doubt he would accept a dime from even the highest religious sect, much less an advantageous art vendor. No, this place can be neither bought nor sold. It can only be experienced by me in this moment, so I can rightly assume that I am the artist. I do not try to take credit for the creation of the walls, the soil, or the plants that grow, but no artist truly creates his tools. The matter that builds an instrument, paint, or the stage of a dance all exploded from the center a star at one point or another and hurried across space and time to stick together here and now, at the disposal of the artist. It is my work of art because I see it and I feel that it is beautiful and in my eyes, the masterful works of Monet and Dali suddenly loose their value. I realize that what I see I can only describe accurately as god, pure existence in all of its beauty. And what is more, I created it by chance! If for some reason I find myself in Sunday school, questioned by the confused little children, “If God created everything, then what created God?” I will speak with confidence, “I did, and you did, because we exist and we can see that existence is there,” and I am thoroughly convinced that they will understand those words more deeply than myself or any other learned adult.

So now I wonder, how can I share this? When I find something that benefits myself, I naturally feel inclined share it to improve the general well being of others. More to the point, we have already discussed that I cannot sell it, so that is settled. I accept that to you, this essay could value little to nothing and also understand that I am not a modern prophet but quite human. My vision is no more special than the next person’s or even than that of a fly on the wall. That said, I cannot help but urge any person dwelling inside and vegetating in their domestic comfort to stop whatever it is that they are doing and go outside. Look up at the sun because it will kiss your face and you deserve that. Smile back at the sun because he never takes break from his work, and deserves your smile. If you find what I suggest absurd, know that in the very least, smiling promotes the production of serotonin in the brain. If it is cloudy or rainy, notice instead the dirt or muddy puddles of water at your feet. Although smaller in proportion, they are no less beautiful or important than the sun. Now gaze all around. Of all the infinite possibilities, the things that surround you have aligned themselves to become exactly what they are in this moment. It doesn’t matter what you look at, but that you look at it that makes something become beautiful.

Carl Sagan wisely once said that we are a way for the Cosmos to know itself. We hold a simple responsibility and gift to cherish that truth. In my eyes, to do so is as simple as observing an aging courtyard where tired old pigeons rest, and to do so with pleasure.

Peyton Foley