Friday, May 09, 2008

Gone But Not Forgotten

It's gone. I still can't believe it's gone. I keep thinking it's just hiding in there, somewhere between the ever-expanding Siberian iris bed and the wild rose. But no. The one true and perennial bleeding heart, one of the first harbingers of spring in my garden, has apparently crossed the threshold of death's door before I even knew it was approaching it. There were no signs last year that I should anticipate this. Our winter was rather nondescript: not especially harsh, not especially dry. Perhaps it was just its time; perhaps it had lived to its full capacity. Do perennials just stop living? And too, bleeding hearts drop seeds every year; new seedlings under their skirts are not uncommon. But there's nothing, not a single scrap of bleeding heart, old or new. And this registers as an absence for me, a loss - however infinitesimal in the grand scheme of things. My love for it, alongside my incredulity over its disappearance, are what provoke me to write.

My first impulse, once I accepted that it was not returning from dormancy this year, was to want to pay tribute. Those stems of heart-shaped, evocative flowers were teachers to me these past two springs. They invited, caused me to pause to look, and then to pause and look closer still. I even wrote about that in this column, about the seeing, the seeing
more when I stopped expecting to see what I thought I would see when I looked at them.

I feel as if I've lost a friend. Crazy perhaps, but it's true. And maybe it is because of their having changed me that this is so. No living thing that contributes to our lives is ever forgotten, yes? Any being, any thing that changes me, especially for the better, I hold dear. So it should come as no surprise, this missing, this sense of an absence. What does surprise me is the
surprise at its absence.

Did I expect this plant would live forever? Do I expect my perennial iris, poppy, peony, evening primrose will live forever? Apparently I do. Even in death, the bleeding heart teaches me. Reminds me. It would seem that this is a fact of life that bears repeating--repeatedly: that all is fleeting. I know I won't live forever, that you won't live forever. The maple tree just six or eight feet from this newly barren patch of garden: it died and was removed two years ago. But then, the "street trees": they're dying off one by one. The winter salting of the roads? So this one's passing was no surprise. Yet all the other bleeding hearts in my neighborhood are thriving, so...?

I am reminded of a poem I penned...wow, almost ten years ago now:



NOTES

Every time we say goodbye

I lean to kiss

whether or not my body

moves toward you and I say

whether or not I speak

You never know.
You just never know.
Mindful that
even that which is held is not kept
and not held either so much as

gathered between fingers

momentarily as the eye

gathers the iris bearded purple and yellow

miner of sweetness mother

to oohs and ahhs for what is living:

life putting down its notes

playing them however briefly

with surety

and an open hand.


"Here today; gone tomorrow."


We know it, but do we
live it? I know when I am and when I am not living it. And I know this: things get very precious very quickly when I pause and know that the beloved before me may be gone tomorrow. Instantly, "I love you, Sweetheart" transforms from words articulated, from word forms to...heart forms. Love is lived then. Not spoken, but lived. And it is palpable, the difference; to each of us it is palpable. I call this cherishment. Cherishment is not about insuring against regret. But I can say there is peace in knowing that I cherished the bleeding hearts, thanks to Love's Freeway and the quality and depth of seeing, of listening that it is drawing from me. They are lost, they are gone and I miss them. But there is no mistaking that I loved them, and I will continue to love them by way of their likenesses for a long time to come, grateful for their gifts to me, to us all.

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