Many mornings this summer I’ve woken early, brewed the coffee, and taken my first cup outdoors, quietly excited to see what’s happened in my small garden overnight. I call it a “garden,” but it’s really just flowers planted in the landscaping that circumvents our condo. Because we’re on the corner, we have a large enough area to add a good number of annuals, planters, and garden ornaments amongst the existing greenery.
Now I’m no “gardener,” at least not in the sense that many of my friends are, with lush backyards filled with perennials, annuals, and even ponds or fountains. My small space is just the right size for my gardening talents, and each year we’ve lived here I’ve enjoyed planting flowers and trying out new combinations of potted arrangements.
My mom loved flowers, and our spring shopping always included lots of trips to area nurseries. I occasionally got annoyed with her because it took so many trips before she had everything she wanted. Why couldn’t she just get it all at once? I’d think, making yet another stop for a few more petunias or another fern.
Of course, I understand it now. I probably went out on half a dozen plant buying sprees this spring before I got it all “just right.” I thought of her on each and every one of them. The flowers have been another way to stay connected with her, and so I tend to be a little paranoid about keeping them alive and well, almost as if by doing so I can keep her alive and well and with me a little bit longer.
Yesterday, admiring the way the impatiens have filled in, I noticed the play of sun and shade on one of the plants. While some of its blossoms were sparkling in the sunlight, the other half rested quietly in the cool shade.
Just like me, I thought to myself. In nearly every part of my life right now, I’m betwixt and between darkness and light.
That’s really all of our stories, isn’t it? We flit back and forth between sunlight and shadow. Sometimes large chunks of our lives seem bubbly and bright, other times we long for a glimpse of sunshine anywhere amidst the darkness.
When someone you love dies, it’s easy to dwell in the shadows. Everything is tainted by the loss, by the emptiness this person has left behind, by the vulnerability you feel facing the rest of your own life without them. I’ve been spending a lot of time and energy searching for light, a lot of time trying to create light for myself, like those UVA lamps people use in the winter to prevent seasonal affective disorder.
It’s been a hot, dry summer this year. It’s been hard work to keep these plants fed and watered and Mother Nature hasn’t been much help. Much of my little garden is in shade, which is why impatiens fill in so nicely along its borders. But a few of them are bathed in morning sun, and those plants sometimes droop and wither, especially if I’ve not watered them first thing in the morning. When the sun finally moves away, the cool shadows slowly soothe and restore them.
Sometimes grief for me is less like darkness than it is like standing in the hot sun, feeling overheated, exhausted, parched with thirst. Shade can cool the searing pain of loss. I remind myself that the shadows can be nourishing, that’s it alright to sink into them for a little while. The shadow times of grief, of remembering my mother and how much I loved her, how much I miss hearing her voice, touching her hand, eating the food she cooked for me - it’s during those times that healing occurs. “Grief is the healing process of the heart,” writes Elisabeth Kubler Ross. “It is the path that returns us to wholeness."
Living is never all one thing or the other, is it? The interconnectedness of sun and shade, the experience of being betwixt and between. “The pain now is part of the happiness then,” writes C.S. Lewis. “That’s the deal.” We live our lives in the bright sunshine of everyday being and doing, but the shadow of death exists just on the other side.
It’s not always a comfortable place to be. You have to look closely to see the beauty in it.
My mornings in the “garden” help me do that.
How about you? What are you “betwixt and between” in you life? Do you ever find comfort and healing in the shadows? What brings you light?