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AN ACT OF FAITH
.By Jamie Etheridge
The lemon tree sapling struggles for life. Climbing a wobbly six inches from the soil, the narrow stem labors to hold up a few limp, discolored leaves. I root for it, whisper words of encouragement as I push my finger deep into the dry, crumbly soil checking for moisture, for the elements of life.
The sprout started as a seed I pulled from the flesh of a freshly sliced lemon. I’m not sure of the variety. It might be an Avalon or Meyer’s imported from the United States or possibly a Lisbon or Eureka brought in from Lebanon or Jordan. I bought the lemons in the grocery store without a thought of their origins. Examining the slippery, slime-coated seed, I thought why not try to germinate?
Growing things has become a hobby of mine under lockdown, a distraction to while away the quiet evening hours during a global pandemic when staying at home is the only choice. Kuwait is home for me and my family. I came here years ago, planning to stay for a while, write and explore. Instead I found a job, a partner, had children and slowly over the years have built a life rich in family, friends and community. It hasn’t been easy, thriving in a foreign environment. It requires work and perseverance, grit, and a determination to flourish sometimes against the odds. It also requires healthy doses of imagination and patience, like the sunshine and fresh air needed for the sapling lemon tree.
I sprouted the lemon seed and planted it in late 2019, when the coronavirus was first starting to spread in Wuhan, China. I planted it with the simple certainty that tomorrow would happen just as it always had, inexorably, reliably. Now my belief in tomorrow has been shaken, upset by the global pandemic that has upended all our lives and realities. There are now more than 5.7 million infections and 350,000 deaths. Economies around the globe have shuttered and millions of people have lost their jobs, businesses and livelihood. Schools may be closed in some places until fall or even later.
No one knows how much worse the situation will become. Already as countries reopen businesses and ease stay at home restrictions, scientists warn of looming spikes. Beyond the health concerns, we all now face an uncertain future and possibly years of economic instability. As a mom with school age children living abroad, I feel doubly worried. How do I protect my daughters, ensure they have a future? Already we struggle to pay school fees and now it looks like that may be an impossibility for next fall. Am I right to stay where we are or should I consider moving home? And what will the US look like in three months, six months, a year? We have a life here, friends and community. I have no answers, only the worries that come from being a mom, an expat, a human being living through a global pandemic.
In the morning, when I get up, I grab a coffee and check on the lemon tree. Leaves in friendly clusters bud from the stem, smaller white and green nearer the root, spiraling to broad blades two thirds of the way up. At the apex, three tiny infant leaves shoot out, one left, one right as if divorcing from each other and one straight up toward the light. Planted in a cream colored flower pot, the sapling is secured to a chopstick with a bread bag tie. I’d hoped the added security might encourage its upward momentum. So far, it hasn’t made much of a difference.
The pot sits on my dining room table, my current working from home ‘office’ space. I’ve moved it three times: First from the corner stand where it sprouted in a damp paper towel to a cup of soil to a sliver of tree, more an idea than reality.
After it failed to flourish, I shifted it outside to the balcony, hoping that direct sunlight might enliven its slumping leaves. Lemon trees typically do well in full sun. But the Kuwait sun is relentless and searing and after two days the leaves shriveled and browned so that I thought it had died. I brought it back inside, apologized for leaving it to the brutalities of the desert heat and watered it thoroughly. Now it sits in the middle of my workspace, looking tired and droopy.
Plants are faith. They persist without concern of what tomorrow may bring. They do not fail to grow because they fear a summer without rain. They do not fail to flower out of anxiety of a cold winter in the months ahead. They do not sit down and give up when the unexpected happens, when it rains instead of being sunny, or a dust storm blows through the country and coats everything in ocher and brown.
Thinking about tomorrow right now in the midst of this pandemic feels impossible. There is too much uncertainty, too much unknown and fear. But tomorrow will come, I remind myself as I tend the lemon sapling. I wipe the dust from its leaves, check the soil and do my best to help it grow.
Jamie Etheridge is an American writer and journalist currently living in Kuwait. Her poetry has appeared in Red River Review, The Potomac Journal and Unblinking Eye. In Spring 2017, she won the Ink & Paint competition by the Kuwait Poets Society / Artspace for her poem, ‘Epithet’. Another poem won Honorable Mention in the Goodreads January 2017 newsletter. Her first short fiction piece, ‘Alphabet Rain’, was featured in Wordhaus in March 2016 and her second story, ‘Lemonade and jinn’ will be published in Running Wild Press Anthology Vol. 4 (forthcoming, summer 2020).