About a month ago, Hank died. Hank had been my friend’s partner and ally through heart-wrenching losses and exquisite joys… distracting her with his antics, depending on her like a child, and adoring her every move. But as Hank’s illness took more and more out of him and out of the family, my friend had to consider a tough question: How do you know when “it’s time”? Perhaps animals are more in tune with nature’s rhythms than we realize: As he had through so many other tough transitions before, my friend’s dog, Hank, eased her through their final passage together.
A couple of weeks later, I held that friend’s newborn in my arms. I’d forgotten how the world stops when you connect with utter vulnerability and wordless, guileless innocence. I felt an instant yearning, from deep in my belly, to protect him. Every twitch of those minute fingers and every tiny, sighing shudder made me want to pledge undying loyalty and allegiance. Be still my heart! I was holding absolute potential in my very arms; the wellspring of life from which anything and everything is possible. Their family was now complete, healed, unbroken again.
Yesterday, from a breathtaking hill-top view of flowing grapevines, I met with others to laugh, cry and celebrate the passing of another friend, Sue. I hadn’t known Sue very well, but she had been a “pistol” in her day — the kind that exasperated parents and thrilled anyone looking to sneak out of a dorm window, ignore a curfew or two, or find some limits to push. With a bobbing flaxen pony tail and sparkling smile, she was an instant best friend… and an instant party. If we all have a special gift or talent, then creating friendships and connecting people was hers. We gathered on that hilltop to lattice a large gap she’d left.
I came home from Sue’s celebration to a sad-looking plant in my kitchen. It needed water, and some attention… and it definitely needed pruning. I started with the yellow, crinkly leaves that almost fell off the stalk. They had to go, of course. And as I kept tugging and snipping… the choices became less clear-cut (so to speak). Did this little dried bloom need to go? Could that lime/yellow leaf make its way back? Or was I just plucking now what nature would surely discard later? I opted for plucking. Some of my decisions felt almost cruel; but certainly justified… and, strangely, invigorating. Surely, it wasn’t just self-interested aesthetics… Surely, my “playing God” was good for that little plant. We all know that cutting out the old helps the new buds form.
As I pruned, my mind meandered to Sue, to Hank, and to that mesmerizing thrall of a newborn: Each so different, each so captivating and crucial to different corners of my world. Maybe, in a way, we are all part of one big cosmic plant. And when someone we love is snipped away — or when it’s our time to be plucked, by hands known or unknown – maybe that vast, cavernous hole can slowly, slowly become a source for us. And if we stay vigilant, letting ourselves fully experience the void, eventually the magical gifts of tiny shoots, inchoate buds emerge.
I once read that we are all like the billions of water drops that form the ocean. Through the rise and fall of waves, and the churn and swirl of storms, we are never really separate from that endless, watery source. And so, we keep forming and riding those waves, one after another. Some are rough and tall and boisterous to the end. Others barely rise…making themselves visible only to keen observers before calming back into the ocean.
I think the trick is to embrace the gifts that lie on the sand after each wave has dissipated: Hold those sand-dollars to our breast, keep listening to the ocean’s voice through those conch shells — while also remembering to look towards the horizon. Deep in that briny womb, whole worlds of creatures thrive and waves are ceaselessly creating themselves, reaching their hands towards us, and leaving us gifts before they return to their source.