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[I wrote this post last summer but didn’t feel brave enough to post it then.  My friend is visiting again soon, and I’m posting now in happy anticipation of her visit.)

 

Every girl wants to be Beautiful.
wine & candlesThere have been two or three times in my life when I’ve actually felt “pretty”.   And I’ve been called, more than once, “cute’.   Now, cute may be flattering when you’re eight years old, and maybe again when you’re 80, but when you’re in your middle years, mature and lovely, “cute” is not what you want to hear.

We had a dinner party here the other evening.  Aromatic reds and chilled white wines and sparkling crystal were set on white linen out on the table in the garden, bright flowers all around, and avocado-spread toasted rounds, tequila-glazed grilled chicken, creamy risotto, and arugula salad.  A friend who travels the world, volunteering with service and education projects in unlikely locations, returns to Vermont about once a year and spends some time with us.  She also happens to have a Masters  degree (from an Ivy League School) in French Bread (honest!!), and when she visits, loves to put on a dinner party.  I simply offer to help cut vegetables and set the table.

The air was clean and warm and laughter flowed, well into the night after the stars and bugs came out.  After the second mosquito, we  took our wine glasses and meandered inside, and at some point, I think after I dribbled some wine onto my chin as my Palsy side doesn’t work so well and sometimes drinking without a straw is a challenge, anyway, somebody said “ah you’re so cute”.

I know it was meant as a sincere compliment, but I worked at a smile and a laugh  through my trembling lips and ducked into the potty room.  I sat on the edge of the tub and had a good 4-minute cry.  Then I splashed some cool water on my face, holding my palsy-side eye closed with my finger of course.  And then I looked in the mirror.

I so long to be composed and sure and beautiful, able to sip a simple wine without concentrating on how my mouth is working; and feel instead awkward, lopsided and disfigured.  The face looking back at me wasn’t me at all — I’m still unfamiliar with this palsied face, even though it has been three years.  I don’t know who this person is, that looks so unattractive to me, with her twisted smile.  The threshold to this pathway of thinking is wide and strong, and there alone in the bathroom, with sounds of laughter and conversation coming through from the room on the other side of the door, there at that moment I had a choice to make.  “I am NOT my face,”  I chose to remind myself.  Inside, my life is full of fun and joy and strength and dignity and, yes, beauty.  My life and love can still shine through my one good eye.  And these people here are all friends, which means they know I love them, and enjoy them, as they do me – and they see past my face.  Way past my face.  I stood there, and chose to smile at myself in the mirror.  And half of my face smiled back, and my eye was full of joy, and it was a beautiful smile.

“I’ve learned my face is an incredible gift,” said Mr. Roche…”Not the kind of gift I was excited about, but it’s a gift because I’ve been forced to find my inner beauty….And I’ve learned that my experiences are universal experiences. Everybody feels disfigured, whether it’s on the inside or the outside. When you step out of the shower in the morning and look at yourself in the mirror, you know what I’m talking about.”

[Quote from a 90-minute program on ‘Inner Beauty’ with Post-Gazette executive editor David Shribman serving as moderator]

 

You can see my other posts on living with facial palsy:

“What’s in Your Smile?”

“Smiles, souls and Zinnias”

“Til We Have Faces”

 

 

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amaryllisbulbIsaiah 43:19

 “Behold, I am doing something new,
Now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?
I will make a roadway into the wilderness,
and rivers in the dry desert.”

2 Corinthians 5:17

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old has passed away; behold, new things have come.”

My sister-in-law gave me an ugly amaryllis bulb for Christmas.  It is in a moss-covered pot, with an inch of green sprout showing.  Like all bulbs, the dull, dry, brown, flaky mass beneath the soil isn’t very attractive or promising.  But the thick green leaf just beginning to stretch up into the light is full of glory and things-hoped-for.  A magnificent amaryllis bloom is a stunning sight, and blesses my senses, and my home.  But this resurrection requires a healthy, nourishing soil, and Light.

Our little congregation has been going through the arduous process of a pastoral search.  It has been almost 2 years, and not even an interim on the horizon.  It seems not many qualified individuals are interested in uprooting to the hinter-winterland of Vermont.  Our last go-round left many among us hurting and confused, as the candidate process nearly split us apart.  We hadn’t realized we were so divided, and we don’t even yet know what we’re divided about.  But we are all discouraged and tired.  We are sort of like a dry, brown lump just now.

So, JR and I will bring our skills and experience as mediation counselors, and begin the journey toward resurrection and healing.  As we talk with individuals, and eventually with the whole congregation, we will discover each one of us has our fears, our hopes, our stories, and we will once again learn to know and to trust each other.  That is my hope and my prayer.

As we start to listen to each other, as Truth comes into the Light, growth and healing can begin.  We know that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Life. This tender life will need to be nurtured by the soil of honesty, humility, commitment, confession and prayer; then our tired root can again begin to stir.  It will take courageous work on everyone’s part, and a willingness to be a living and active part of a community of faith on a journey together, but growth and healing will come.  By hearing  and knowing each other, unity and trust will again take root, and in its time we can expect to embrace a glorious bloom, strengthened and vigorous.  We will be ready to embark on a new search for our new pastor, and be ready to bless our world!

Heading out onto this unmarked and uncertain pathway, I am glad to have my little amaryllis pot on the window sill.  It reminds me of the quiet promise of the steadfast journey toward resurrection and newness of LIFE.

vintage-amaryllis

PS:  Would you please do me a favor and let me know if you see an advertisement on this site….  WordPress has started randomly posting ads…

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Let me ask you a question… 

When you hear “photo-time, smile for the camera” do you panic and find you have a sudden urge to hide in the bathroom until the photo taking is finished?  Do you instinctively cover your face with your hand? Do you suffer through comments like “what are you so unhappy about?” when you’re only aware of feeling good?   Does the helpful suggestion “Smile!”  make you want to cry?  When you meet someone new and offer them your best smile, do you recognize the flash of awkwardness and discomfort that crosses their face in a micro-second before they recover enough to greet you?  When you’re un-self-consciously enjoying yourself, talking and laughing and smiling freely, do you notice others staring, looking away, or looking uncomfortable because of you?  If not, if you don’t relate to situations like these, maybe, without realizing it, you have “smile privilege”.  What I mean by this is, maybe you have the privilege of enjoying a normal smile without ever giving it a thought.

I know I did.  Until I lost the ability to simply smile with fullness and ease.   I never considered what an elemental gift it is to be able to communicate openly with a smile — a simple and effective non-verbal instantaneous communication that says “I like you.  I am interested in you.”   Psychologists know that smiles have a powerful and instinctual effect on us as humans.  The simple act of smiling is often contagious; people typically react favorably and are more comfortable around you when you are smiling. Who doesn’t take for granted the fact that smiling transmits happiness, friendliness, warmth, and liking.  So, if you smile frequently, you will be perceived as being more likable, friendly, warm and approachable.   bp half smileBut for those who can’t smile, the loss is very, very real. The immediate, non-verbal communication is broken, the person may subliminally be perceived as unfriendly, unlikeable and unapproachable.  Two-plus years with residual Bell’s Palsy and permanent facial nerve damage to one half of my face, leaving me without the ability to move the muscles that automatically produce facial expressions, has certainly opened my eyes to the unexamined ‘smile privilege’.

And led me to be thinking about all kinds of other privilege as well.  You know, the things we take for granted that make life easier, if we think about it.  Like, for example, ‘white privilege’.  Or, if you’re female, you bump into ‘male privilege’.  Put these together, and you get the Biggie:  White Male Privilege, or WMP.

Our denomination has been working carefully at a program called the Damascus Road Project: Dismantling Racism.  This process begins when the “light goes on” so to speak, and we’re “knocked off our horses” and are transformed.  Until we recognize, personally, that we  — racially white in the United States of America I mean — live with an unexamined prerogative to access, education, acceptance, inclusion, familiarity, etc, we can have no concept of racism and white privilege.   If you are white, since when did you go to a drugstore to buy bandages, and choose the package that says “flesh-colored”.  Really?  Whose flesh?

I always thought racism was contemptuous, prejudicial, biased thoughts and actions.  “I’m not racist,” I would have insisted, “Look at my African-American friends.  Remember, I’m the one who got rocks thrown at me over the hedge and teased ‘nigger-lover’ by other children in my neighborhood, for playing with the kids of a family from Nigeria.  I’m not the one who’s racist.”  Only lately have I come to understand that racism is much more subtle than being overtly prejudiced.  It begins with ignorance of the privilege that comes with being white.  It begins with taking something as simple as bandages for granted.  And the process of dismantling it begins with recognizing, in the first place, that privilege exists.  The same goes for sexism, I might gently add.  Or Good Healthism.

Which brings me back to smiles.  If you’re a “smilist”, I hope that the next time you smile today, you will enjoy the privilege, bask in the ease and access it provides you, and delight in its rewards.  And then smile again, for me, and for all those who live with Facial Nerve Palsy.

When 1 + 1 equals 2.
Brain confusion: Which side of the face do you automatically respond to??

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Mother’s Day:  In honor of my mother, and in loving memory of my friend Beth, I’m posting a reflective essay I wrote five years ago, a few months before Beth died at age 88.  She was quite a firecracker.

My friend Beth

My friend Beth was crying yesterday.  She sat in her comfortable green recliner, her last remaining possession, and cried; not the self-conscious tears of trying not to be a bother, not the self-pitying tears of a disappointed child – but honest, innocent tears of confusion and grief.  The nurse came in to give her her medicine, crushed in a spoonful of applesauce, a small white paper cup of water for a chaser.  “Are you all right, dear?” she asked.

“This is my friend,” Beth smiled through her tears, and patted my hand.  Her freshly cut silver hair bobbed against her cheek.

She was immediately distracted by an advertisement for cat food on the muted television which was always on.  “There it is!  You see!  I told you!” she laughed now, and pointed to the jumping kitten on the screen.  I had no idea what she was talking about.  The nurse moved on to the bed next door.

She has dainty, manicured fingers and translucent skin.  Her fingers flutter as she gently brushes her thick bangs to one side and pats her hair. “The little girl, she was there,” she turned to me – the kitten and her tears, both forgotten – her green eyes, soft with eager hope.  “She was there, right there,” she says, hugging herself with girlish delight. Suddenly her twinkling eyes lose their light and turn dark once again.  “They came, but they made me stay.  I was so mad!”  Her small thin-skinned fingers curl into fists, and she is ready to start punching the air, twisting about in her chair.  She has been like this before.  I think she is remembering a foster child she cared for briefly, years and years ago, long before I knew her.  She never realized it was temporary care and the little girl was not to be her own.  When they took the girl away, Beth broke down in hysterics and had to be restrained in the hospital for several weeks, so I was told.  Beth never spoke of it.  Now, her lower lip trembles, and a sound like a muffled wail comes up from the depth of her soul. “And Bud doesn’t come,” and she is in tears again.  “I want to go home.”  She is crying softly, bewildered.  “I want to go home.”

She looks old, and tired.  Home.  Her little one bedroom bungalow where she lived for 65 years, first with her fresh, young husband, a worker on the railroad who died without giving her any children, then, with her blind, diabetic mother.  Then alone, feisty and fiercely independent, taking in sewing, creating and selling beautiful quilts out of her tiny garage turned into a tidy studio. She was the Avon Lady, and was known by everyone in our small town.  She could carry on both sides of any conversation, with wit and laughter, and shared her mighty opinions freely with no one in particular – the grocer, the pharmacist, newspaper carrier, mail person, town clerk, town manager, chief of police, pastor, and the senior citizens in her quilting club or the customers in her little shop.  She composted and dug and planted her own gardens every year until she was 83 and couldn’t remember any longer how to pay her utility bill, or remember to put the milk away in the refrigerator instead of the closet.

As we cleaned out her little house and reluctantly moved her into the nursing home, we began to discover she had not been functioning well for much longer than anybody realized.  With sad affection we found the envelope, stuffed with every kind of colorful advertisement along with the overdue phone bill, and every square inch covered in postage stamps as though she knew she had to mail something but couldn’t quite remember how to go about it.  We found the shoes, lined up in the kitchen cupboard, and stacks of unopened mail stuffed in the dirty laundry basket.  The last months of Beth’s creeping apprehension about leaving her house began to make sense.

Her little home has been sold, the proceeds going to her only brother, Bud, who lives far away and doesn’t care; he has a life and worries of his own.  He arrived soon after we alerted him that Beth wasn’t well.  He stayed about a week, had Beth sign the deed to the house in his name and empty her savings account, and then he went home again.  My husband JR manages her social security check, to pay for her medication and the nursing home bill each month.

At first, Beth had many visitors, friends and neighbors, curious.  Even Bud came to see her once, and sometimes used to call her on a Sunday afternoon.  But now, she has faithful visits from one dear long-time friend, Joan, who manages her health care; and me and JR.

My heart fills with sorrow and wants to break, when she cries with such genuine confusion and pain.  Of course she wants to go home.  To go someplace where things are right again, and familiar, and personal.  To have meaningful and satisfying work to do, and conversations that make sense.  To a small world that is her own world, where she is known and she matters.

Now, she cries alone in her green chair, staring at concrete walls and a droning television, day after long day.  And although she doesn’t remember that a book can be opened, that there are words and pictures on the inside, she does know that Bud doesn’t come, that she isn’t at home.  I try to imagine a very alive soul’s conscious ache for connection, still burning, when the capacity has been snuffed out.  It’s a prison I cannot bear for long.

A small black leather trunk sits in my attic; Beth’s mother’s name is stenciled near the latch.  It holds the precious memories of a life.  There is a photograph of two men in uniform; I recognize Bud and Beth’s husband, standing proudly beside the hibiscus bush that still blooms at the corner of the little bungalow.  A framed childhood photograph of Beth, precocious in her long ringlets and big hair ribbon, seated on a chair with her legs dangling in thick white stockings, trim black boots crossed at the ankle.  Her grandmother’s marriage certificate dated 1878, in bold, colorful calligraphy. Two ticket stubs for Beth and her mother from the last train ride ever between Woodstock and the Junction, before the rail line was terminated and turned into a highway.  A small catalogue of products from the woolen mill where Beth worked alongside her mother while the men were in the war, before it was closed down and turned into a boutique mall.  There is a half-used booklet of yellowed WWII food ration stamps.  There is a program for a long-forgotten school concert, Beth’s name listed as a participant. There are stacks of photographs, of people who once mattered.

This is a mother’s trunk – keep-saking the reminders of a life stored in a mother’s heart.  I see only these bits and pieces of the story of Beth’s life, gone now and long forgotten.  But these were once held dear by the very one who knew the life, the hope, the yearnings, the celebrations, the joys, contained in each memento.  The one who carried this life in her body, and then carried this life in her heart, lovingly kept these treasures as a precious reminder of the child she knew and loved.

There is a secret, divine domain within a mother’s heart, to contain and comprehend the measure of a child.  Though she has birthed and nursed and ultimately released this other, separate being, still the cells of her body recognize, yearn for (and all too often fail at nurturing) the whole potential inherent in her child.  It is from this secret place that she saves the remnants of the life she still carries, somewhere, within her.

Her own mother has been long gone, and Beth herself is a child again.  The little black trunk holds some of her story, but who holds her measure?  Who can hold onto the hope for her, can see all that she is, in her deepest self, since she is no longer able to see it for herself?  Who will see her glory?  For what else could Goldmund have meant, when he said “How will you die, Narcissus, when your turn comes; for you have no mother?”  Narcissus had only himself; and in the end, it isn’t enough.

Her friend Joan and I, in a small way, are mothers now to Beth.  But her soul knows.  Her soul knows even as her mind does not, that her longing to be known is as deep as life itself.  It is no small thing that she wants to go home again.  There is nowhere else to go.  In the end, perhaps, the best we can offer, all of us, is to honor and marvel at the measure of another.  Maybe in some way this, too, is our discipleship of ‘loving one another’.  And maybe Jesus was also thinking of his beloved John when he said, of Mary, “This is your mother.”

Beth with her mother, Mamie
Woodstock, Vermont 1922

My Mother Romi, 1949

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Here’s one thing true about myself:  I’m a Home-body and an Introvert.  I prefer to sit on the edges and watch rather than get in the mix, and I’ve known that since the first grade.  I discovered that children can be sort of mean to each other, and I guess I got enough of that at home.

Watching, I’ve learned, is a fascinating occupation 🙂   But there’s a degree of invisibility about it, too, which doesn’t seem to belong to a child of God.  I’ve struggled with that.  Thinking of Palm Sunday coming right up, I’m offering here an entry from something I wrote two years ago.  This is a lot of disclosure for me, but it’s also a step out into the playground of the world  🙂

Just this morning I’m getting a glimpse into why I might enjoy spending so much time alone.  Maybe because there have been so MANY people around lately.  Both extra bedrooms seem to have been in constant turn-over since we got home from our intense week in close quarters with the crew on the boat.  A few hours with myself, and I begin questioning all the feelings surging inside…

Since ever I can remember, I’ve been acutely (painfully) aware of subtleties of other’s fleeting (unconscious) communications:  eyebrows, twitch, glance, tiny face muscle.. nothing I could catalog, but as plain as reading a book.  And nothing I’m conscious of either, til recently (relatively).  I watch others with interest:  tell stories, laugh, joke, share understanding and language, something common and bonding.  This was most intense on the boat with everyone living under each others noses, always in the same room; and then with company here.  Well, family here.  Lots of laughter.  Like I said to JR, ‘a real junior-high experience for me’.  Not quite fitting in; watching from the sidelines; tentative forays into the unfolding mix; awkward; tolerated more than enjoyed; not really much to contribute; like in a foreign country; not my native culture or language…  At the end of the day, I feel alone, lonely, aware of not really being liked — in that jr.-hi way.  sigh.

This morning I read in my simple book of devotions: Jesus riding on a young colt, the foal of a donkey.  Insignificant beast.  And I see the rightness and joy of being peripheral.  Just for me, just now in my life.  It’s OK.  Jesus, may You teach me the simple quiet joy of contentment with the person I am —  awkward and unimportant as if it were a Gift from You; no need to be ashamed, hide, or try to be like someone else.  So- I don’t have anything clever to add to the laughter.  Nothing profound to add to the conversation.  My presence can be sincere and accepting, just as I am, just being there.  Being “liked” is so CLEARLY the wrong measure for me.  Help me to see Your eyes, for I know I find eternal delight there…

What pleases Him is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty, the blind hope that I have in His mercy …. That is my only treasure…     Ste. Therese of Lisieux

Jesus entry into Jerusalem

what pleases Him is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty, the blind hope that I have in His mercy …. That is my only treasure…

what pleases Him is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty, the blind hope that I have in His mercy …. That is my only treasure…

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The bright male cardinal is back at my kitchen window again today. He is sitting on the sill outside, bonking himself against the glass pane. From time to time, he will peck at the glass, and then goes back to bonking again.

Cardinals are territorial birds, and this male is trying to dissuade the rival bird he sees in his reflection. It is a thrill for me to have a nesting pair in our garden that stays all year ‘round; they have been here for only a few years as the species is slowly expanding into the north. I love the dramatic red plumage, and the drama of their social life as I observe them through my window…

So: Why does he do this? Is this a ‘male’ thing? I wonder if maybe it’s true, that we do observe a bit about created nature — male//female — by noticing what the ‘creatures’ do. While I don’t buy into the extreme stereotypes that all men = martians etc.,or that, because of what I notice with some birds, all passerines are territorial, I really do believe (and find it repeatedly reaffirmed as we work in counseling and spiritual direction with dysfunctional relationships) that men and women are inherently different by nature.

It is too grievous to me to consider what the Church has done with this, and how, particularly, it has used Scripture to support extreme bastions of hierarchy through the centuries, both in the Church and in the home. One has only to honestly and faithfully consider the nature of God as He describes Himself (meaning, LOVE), Jesus as we come to know the Servant in the gospels, and Mr. Cardinal, to figure out that dominion, subservience, power and authority are not a part of the Kingdom.

The beautiful creation story in Genesis 1-3 has inspired some theologians to justify the subordination of women. And the same passages are studied by feminists to refute the same, and establish female independence. I find much richness and depth in this story; much wisdom for understanding motivations, fears, temptations, struggles, and joys in the created peculiarities and fallen complexities for both men and women. It seems to me that God is letting us know, in no uncertain terms, that we are different. I also discover that we are inter-dependent. But, what I can’t discern from these passages, is that Adam is meant to control, dominate, have ‘authority’ over, or otherwise subjugate Eve.

The relationship between this first pair of humans is expressed by the term ‘ezer ke-negdo’. This unusual phrase most likely indicates mutuality. The noun helper can mean either “an assistant” (subordinate) or “an expert” (superior); but the modifying prepositional phrase, used only here in the Bible, apparently means “equal to.” The phrase, which might be translated literally as “an equal helper,” indicates that no hierarchical relationship exists between the primordial couple. This sounds fine to me, leaving room for differing natures and mutual relationship, and fits the ‘Kingdom paradigm’ as Paul says, “There is now neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus…

My dear, dear sister said something to me recently that nearly broke my heart. She said, “I think I’m becoming more masculine…” When I asked her what on earth she meant, she went on to talk about her journey of discovering her own personal, strong identity, distinct from her husband’s, and realizing that she is becoming more assertive. She said she is losing her “softness”. Wow. My thought was, ‘what a screwed up notion of femininity we’ve perpetuated!’ I was thinking of the culpability of BOTH men and women. Now, I don’t think for a moment that she has lost any of her lovely softness. But perhaps she has lost some of her squishiness. Her nature is still soft, nurturing and inviting, her attitude submissive (in the very best sense of the word, as in “submit yourselves one to another”) and her new-found inner strength and dignity are very attractive. I think she is discovering the woman God created.

What about men? Well, I am trusting that men can have a similar journey of discovery. Our men might discover that they, too, have a quiet and gentle strength that is a wonderful gift from their Creator, and find their greatest joy in using that strength as an act of submission as well. Now, wouldn’t THAT be something? Yes, we certainly have done much damage to our relationships, and have made our Church ugly rather than winsome by applying (and acceding to) rules, structures, expectations and hierarchies that have more to do with power and avoidance and control-driven human nature (both male and female) than with God’s intent and original design. That’s why I’m thinking about my cardinals today.

By defending his territory, Mr. Cardinal is acting out an (apparently) innate instinct to protect and provide for his mate. While she is sitting on her eggs in a few weeks, fulfilling her instincts, he will be bringing her food. Now, lest anyone think I am trying to say they are an example of a God-ordained division of gender roles, I just want to point out that I have also been following a live feed of a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks at Cornell University in NY,  and the male is spending as much, or more, time on the nest as the female. This is typical of the RTH, and sometimes the male will even develop a ‘brood patch’, or area on his breast that has no down under his feathers, for warming eggs during incubation, just like the female. Does this mean that he lacks a ‘male instinct to protect and provide’? Seriously don’t think so. And of course we’ll remember the Emperor Penguins of Antarctica, as the males will incubate the egg while the female wobbles nearly 150 miles round trip to fetch food. Does this mean she has abandoned her ‘female instinct to nurture?’ Obviously not. Our human insistence on gender roles, within and without the church, seem to have totally missed the point. As always, God the ‘I AM’, calls us to ‘BE’. He is searching the heart, not the job. Meanwhile, Mrs. Cardinal sits in the lower branches of the spruce tree, enjoying and resting in the un-self-conscious display of protection on her behalf, knowing that Mr. Cardinal is not, in the least, suggesting that she is incapable of looking out for herself. That’s not how the math works out.

Women Workers

Macho Man Apron

 

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I’m fretting about my lavender.  This has not been a typical winter, and I don’t even need my high boots to walk through the garden, let alone snowshoes, which by this time of the season are, normally, pretty much de rigueur.  These temps and snowfall seem to belong, maybe, in North Carolina, or perhaps Connecticut, but certainly not Vermont.  By now, it should be warmer in my freezer than outdoors, and I should require snowshoes to fill the bird feeders, and my parka should have its big furry hood zippered on for the winter.  But none of that has been necessary so far.  There are only a few inches of snow on the ground, and the temperatures will get above freezing again today and tomorrow, and for the rest of the week.  For the sake of my lavender, I hope things change…. I hope REAL winter comes soon.

Deep snow cover and consistent cold temperatures (by cold, I mean below freezing) are necessary to keep the lavender, and other non-zone-4- hardy plants, from heaving their roots.  Without the protection of a good layer of snow, if the ground begins to thaw and then re-freezes, and maybe does that several times, the roots of non-hardy plants will loosen in the soil and the nutrients will be pulled up into the thawed stems.  By spring the plant will likely be dead.  In my zone, it’s a good rule-of-thumb to cover these non-hardy plants with leaves or pine branches once the ground first freezes, but I have come to rely on, besides finding the best protected spot for my lavender, our winter weather to do the job for me.   I’ve lost many lavender plants over the years, but this one has survived, grown big and sprawly and generous, and I love it.  So, this year, with no winter so far to speak of, I’m worried about my lavender.

early morning thornbush

Once, as a young girl, some small grief had me undone, it seemed, to the depth and core of my being.  I don’t remember the incident, I wish I did, but it was some matter of injustice I’m sure.  I was a sensitive child (exquisitely sensitive, I now say…) and was deeply troubled by things that weren’t right.  My father found me weeping — I would go into his study and curl up in his big leather chair when I needed a good cry — and he did what he usually did when he found me there.  He simply sat quietly next to me and didn’t say a word.  Sometimes he would stroke my head, but not very often.  Mostly he just sat, as if he already understood.  When my shoulders stopped heaving and the sobs turned to heavy sighs, he would only say, “are you better now?” and his strength and warmth and kindness and the faint smell of his pipe tobacco would seem like the best hug in the world, and then I was okay again to go back out and face the world.

But this one time, I was aware of how keenly I was upset; and I recognized that my siblings and classmates, well, everybody else for that matter,  didn’t seem to ever become as thoroughly distressed as I often did.  Something must be wrong with me, I figured.  Something broken. This I remember: I wailed,  Daddy, how come I get like this??

My father could be a fierce person, very scary.  I didn’t always recognize his love, but I think I always recognized his wisdom. This time, his answer was gentle.   Because you have a deep soul, he said.  You feel everything more deeply.  It is not a bad thing, because it means you can feel joy more deeply too.  And I knew he was right.  He took me to the window, and we looked out on the bare winter trees and the snow on the ground, and the gray winter sky.  He said to me,  It is winter now,  cold and dark.  But summer will always come.   There are many seasons, but there is only one sun.  You may feel the depths of many things, but you have only one heart to feel them with. 

For my lavender, a good winter is necessary for strong blooms in the coming summer.  I wish us all the joy of blooming.

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was within me an invincible summer.”  Albert Camus.

in my backyard, winter as it should be...

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