Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pushing the Grass Apart

Since January 2009, I've had the opportunity to work as a writer and field editor for the faith-based magazine, Significant Living. It really is a job that just dropped down into my lap from heaven, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I have the honor of working with some of the most gifted and nicest people I've ever met. Naturally, there are certain issues that I like more or am happier with than others. However, the Sept/Oct 2010 version that just came out this week is my absolute favorite I've ever worked on.

Each issue we have a theme or tagline--this one's was "Leaving the Painful Past Behind." It deals with some of my favorite themes to think/talk/write about: forgiveness, healing, restoration, fresh starts. Since the issue is so brand new, the articles are not up on the website yet but when they are, I'll direct you to some of my favorites--they really are life- and perspective-changing stories.

This past year, in addition to writing some of the features, I also write the final page in the magazine, a column called "Grace Notes." It is usually taken from this blog or whatever other ideas I might have kicking around in my mind at the time. The post below is this month's Grace Notes. You'll probably notice that it's a little more polished than my usual style and has no a) extended food descriptions, b) references to 80s music, or c) pleas to watch various British television shows. That's because I had an editor!

Pushing the Grass Apart

To the flowers we never have to say goodbye forever. We grow older every year, but not the garden, it is reborn every spring.”—May Sarton

I am a known plant killer. No matter what I try to grow or what plants people give me as gifts, I end up watering or fertilizing them too much or too little, and they all meet the same sad end. My outdoor containers look like something from Morticia Addams’ house—withered,dried-up sticks and leaves.

“I just can’t grow anything,” I once sighed to my mom. “I have a black thumb instead of a green one.”

“I refuse to believe that,” she replied.“Your grandpa and your uncle Ray could make anything come from the ground. Your dad is a master gardener. You have gardening in your genetic makeup!”

She looked fondly at my two daughters. “You’re just growing something different right now. But someday you’ll have a beautiful garden, I know you will.”

Early this summer, I lost my dear mom to cancer, and I now find myself trying to dig through the rocky ground of bereavement. I want to be like Katy from Stepping Heavenward, who vowed to move forward with fidelity and patience after the death of her mother, and cried, “I would not have her back for all the world. She has gotten away from all the suffering of life; let her stay!”

Instead, I find myself dreaming of my mom—in one dream she is miraculously her vital, healthy self, sitting at the dining room table and telling me she’s found a little time to work on her Christmas cards. In another, she is in the hospice where she suffered so terribly at the end, wearing her peach-colored pajamas, and I am holding her, knowing that I have only a few moments left before she slips away. After each dream, I wake, desperate to somehow get back to that dreamworld again and knowing these shadowy moments are the only times I can see her on this Earth.

During these months, I have discovered that grief is not one deep stab wound, rather, it is a thousand tiny slings and arrows. It’s reaching my hand down in the car door and finding one of her lipsticks, hearing a hymn that I’ve heard her sing a hundred times, or remembering the cheerful, determined way she would wake my brother and me for school in the mornings: “Up and at ‘em!” This holdover from her farm days, which, frankly, we kind of hated at the time, is something I would now give my life’s savings to hear her say just once more. If I take one of her silk scarves, spray it with her signature Gloria Vanderbilt perfume, and wrap it around my neck, I can close my eyes and pretend she’s right next to me.

There’s a line from a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Stricken too sore for tears, I stand . . .” and that is what I am. Gone are the previous, cleansing bouts of crying because all my tears now seem to be internal. The rest of life and humanity carries on around me (how dare they?), and, though I maintain a calm normality on the outside, I am weeping on the inside. Hemorrhaging.

I gain some comfort, as so many others have, from the Psalms—Psalm 126:6 in particular. “He who goes continually forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,bringing his sheaves with him.” I cherish the thought that the Bible doesn’t tell me to stop crying and just get over it. It just tells me to go forward, continually,weeping yet still sowing.

How can I move forward when I just want to remain in the past? Fall is coming, the season of harvest, and I am emptyhanded. I know most people love autumn for its beauty, but it fills me with dread. Fall is just a harbinger of death tricked out in a party dress. Winter will follow on its heels—a slow season of emptiness with no life, no growing in sight.

And yet, there is still hope. As a Christian, I look back on Good Friday from the light of Easter day. Without death,there can be no new life. Even though winter will cover the earth, there are wonderful things going on under the snow. Millay has another poem I have long loved, containing the line: “God, I can push the grass apart and lay my finger on Your heart.” I’m wondering if God will meet me in the garden as He has so many before me. With His help, will I be able to cultivate this stony ground?

I need a plan of action, so this autumn I’ve got some fresh soil to put down in my old flowerbeds and hundreds of spring bulbs to bury. I may weep while I work,but I’m going to put my back into it and go forth continually until every available space has a little promise of life sown. I don’t want to miss out on any resurrection that might come my way.

Though I ache for my mom with everything in me, I know, deep down, I would not have her back for all the world. Let her stay!

I, too, will bear on with fidelity and patience.

Up and at 'em.

It’s time to plant.


Melanie said...

No words just love and hugs.

Bill said...

I hope you don't mind, but I am going to use some of your words to inspire my GriefShare support group.
Your words touched me deeply Alice. Your final "Up and At Em" brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my heart.
Wishing you and Darren were closer so that my little Emma Rose could hang with your kids, and our families could hang out. I know that you and Jen would connect. She is English Major from Wheaton, and loves many of the same books, and loves poetry (which I still struggle to understand and enjoy)...oh well...thanks for being such a great MFP!

In Him,


Alice said...
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