When my husband’s mother fell suddenly very ill with cancer, we left our home in Boston with only a day’s notice to go and be with her. This was April, several years ago now. We had rows and rows of seedlings in the window. We planted out by flashlights in the night before we left.
This Saturday I spent all day in town. A Halloween costume, a lunch out, a date with grandparents, a trip to my favorite crunchy garden store for seed. When I got home it was too dark to plant, but I started anyway.
If you’re following me anywhere other than here you probably already know that my friend Rick passed away on Friday. I stumbled into his name today, in chapter 2 and again in chapter 10, while I was editing my book. He’s one of these minor characters that my editor says I have too many of. Just one thread in the fabric of a life.
Grief knows so much about helplessness. It knows so much about fumbling in the dark.
But so much more painful, grief also knows about life powering on. Summer follows spring. Spring follows winter. The earth keeps turning, and turning, even when it’s leaving things behind.
My friend Seth (whom you should all also be following, btw, his book comes out NEXT WEEK), says he doesn’t use the same phrases he used to use, about God and grief and illness. At some point you get to a place where you just can’t say the things you used to say.
This is all I can tell you, to explain why I haven’t written here in a week, why I planted fall seeds in the nighttime, and why I bother with anything at all. There is a rift, between what is and what should be. Once, you were desperate to make that rift go away. Once you thought you would drown in it. But the truth is, there really is a rift — as wide as oceans — between what is and what should be.
If this blog, and this month in particular, was supposed to be about where the rubber meets the road, how perfect and how poignant it is that it would end up here. I didn’t write about daily work for a week because I didn’t do any. I left the dishes undone, let alone the sheet mulching. I didn’t have a daily anything, or will to work. Until suddenly the bubble broke and there I was planting again, in the dark.
I learned so much this month, about the truth of where that rubber meets the road. I can’t speak for Seth, who told me that he can’t say the old platitudes about grief and illness and God. We’ll all have to go looking for his words. But for me? I am reeling, reeling, spinning right over, from the awareness of just how capable we are of caring for one another. I feel like I’ve said this a bunch of times. And yet it bears repeating. The scariest thing is not the way in which we are entirely helpless, but the way in which we are not.
I think maybe we all could have our lives turned upside down, at any time — maybe even constantly — by the grief of others. I don’t know what’s scarier or more beautiful than that. That kind of tenderness. That kind of transparency. That kind of love. Or its presence, luminous, in all the moments of our everyday, normal lives.
I came back around on Sunday. It’s late Sunday night as I write this. I did all the cover crops, the garlic, I mulched my perennials. I did the dishes, too. I dug manure into the ground for our two fall fruit trees, which Nick will bring home from town sometime next week. He is right now organizing the tool shed, and dreaming of ways to capture an intruding rat. (Build a better mousetrap, you guys. I swear. He’d pay good money to see that rat forever out of his shed.) And our kids are drawing thousands of pictures of dragons and squabbling with one another, while our kitten ferociously attacks all of our pillows.
This is the sacred thing, right here. This. To know the daily and the infinite, each alongside the other…intertwined. Even under heaven nails still need to be cut, meals prepared, seeds planted. And gardens will yet grow, even in the pitch black night of grief.