It has been years since I planted a garden. Maybe five or more.

“This year,” I thought, “I’ll make space to do this.” My quest for a garden started in the winter when I asked my husband to build me some raised garden beds. He surprised me on my birthday by spending the day building three-tiered, raised beds for me. I was thrilled.

In my previous gardening life, woodland creatures had eaten a part of my harvest before my family and I had gotten a chance to pick my vegetables. I felt cheated and disappointed by the discovery and I was determined that this time would be different. I spent days searching for the perfect plants and I finally decided that I would plant tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and beans. Every morning I would anxiously check on my seedlings.

Are they growing?

Are they OK?

They started to sprout and I started to get nervous. Would they make it? Would my family actually get to enjoy the literal fruit of our labor? One morning, my husband sent me a picture of deer in our backyard. “Noooo,” I thought to myself. The deer were stunning but I didn’t want them messing up my garden. I couldn’t wait to get home to assess the damage and immediately started searching online for some kind of a protective measure. When I got home, I saw that my garden was fine, but I still wanted to guard it in some way. I decided on a mesh net that would drape over PVC pipes. It seemed perfect. It would still allow rain and sunlight to get in, but would keep animals out.

My husband installed the mesh and I breathed a sigh of relief. Weeks passed and I continued to check on my garden after work. I noticed that only one of my tomato plants was blooming, despite numerous tall vines. The cucumber vines were flowering, but none of those flowers were producing fruit. I watered more frequently for weeks, but that didn’t seem to help. I searched online and everything I saw pointed at a lack of pollinators (bees or butterflies).

I was in disbelief. There is a tree directly above my garden that is full of bees. The bees and the location of the garden should have been a perfect match. Why weren’t they pollinating? All they had to do was fly down and do their thing. And then it dawned on me. The mesh. I was keeping them from producing by prohibiting their access to the flowers. I nervously removed the mesh. Within weeks, things started to grow. I immediately saw the similarities between what I’d done to my garden and what I’d done to myself at times.

As an introvert, I have sometimes shied away from opportunities that pushed me outside of my comfort zone. In doing so, I have sometimes stifled my own growth. There were times when I chose to hide myself in a cloak of invisibility because being seen by others felt too risky. Visibility includes the potential for embarrassment or being misunderstood.

But there is also risk in living an invisible life. When I keep my ideas to myself or skip chances to meet new people, I deny myself opportunities to learn and connect with others. Now when I’m tempted to “stay behind the mesh,” I check in with myself.

Is there a growth opportunity?

Will I have this chance again?

Is there a threat? Is it real or just perceived?

We have already harvested the beans and the cucumbers will be ready to pick any day now. The tomatoes are growing and the garden is now filled with bees. I haven’t seen any animals out there, but even if I do, the risk is worth the harvest.