A gracious, elderly gentleman, who is a patient I have been seeing for several years, came into the clinic and had a routine visit in which we discussed his chronic medical conditions and made what adjustments which were needed along with routine testing as required. While talking about his health, we diverged on a tangent and began to discuss gardening. A lot can be learned about a patient from the usual history and physical exam, but a lot can also be learned from a conversation about the routine activities of daily life. I have learned a lot about all the multitude of tips people have for growing various garden vegetables and have employed them each year trying to do a better job with my small garden. How to grow better tomatoes is the most popular topic. While the patient was informing me of his favorite and most effective ways of getting tomatoes to grow the most, he lowered his voice, as if it were a secret that he did not want anyone else to hear, and stated that the one thing he does every year is to get ashes from the burned wood he used to heat his home and puts a handful under each tomato seedling that he plants. Patients come to the clinic to gain some insight into what they can do to have better health and I get to learn of the wisdom of their many years of life experiences. He must have been able to tell that I was interested because he offered to bring me a bag of his potent ashes to help me grow some better tomatoes this year. The weeks went by after his visit and I wondered if he had forgotten about his thoughtful offer, however, I was pleasantly surprised when a friend of his recently came in for a visit and told me before he departed that he had a bag of ashes for me. When I left that evening, I looked in the back of my truck and smiled when I saw the promised black garbage bag of ashes nicely folded and placed in a corner.
There might be some who would be irritated at a patient bringing them a garbage bag of ashes from their fireplace, but that bag symbolized a lot to me. It demonstrated appreciation, love, friendship, helpfulness, respect, wisdom, helpfulness, integrity, and, let us not forget, a desire to see me get some good tomatoes this year. As I planted my tomatoes, I reached into that bag to find some finely ground ashes with not even one clump of unburned wood. I am hoping that this will pay off later this year when the tomatoes start growing. While doing my planting, I could not help but to think about this patient and said a prayer of blessing for him. Some of the simplest gifts of appreciation mean the most. It was some simple ashes, but it was the needed ingredient for fruitfulness. God formed us from the dust and that is what we all revert to one day. As I ran my hand through those ashes, I couldn’t help thinking of my own mortality. It is not just at the end of our lives that we must die although. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul stated that he had to die daily. What did he mean? To explain it more, Romans 8:13 states, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Does not God ask us all to do the same thing? Some simple ashes can teach us a lot. Those tomatoes will taste better this year than they ever have.