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In the Shadows

It was time to take the tree down. More needles had fallen to the ground than remained on the branches.

The fires were burning, and the timing was curious. I called my friend: my friend that had escaped through her bedroom window to accompany me to toilet-paper a boy’s house very early on a summer morning in 1982; my friend that sat with me on my carpeted bedroom floor on one of our first college breaks as we collectively realized that U2’s song “40” was inspired by the biblical psalm; my friend who had a chaise lounge and little violets on the wallpaper in her bedroom where I had so often slept in the canopy bed alongside her; my friend that I had not seen in nearly thirty years. I called her, and she graciously allowed my son to park his car in her driveway as the fires threatened to move in to the area where he was living. His car, along with his treasured possessions which he had packed away in his trunk and my deepest high school secrets still untold, was safe with my friend while he traveled across the country for the Christmas holidays. I was hesitant to make the call to my long-ago friend in California, but I knew I needed to, on the chance that it might work out.

That might be how the placement workers feel: I will call, just at the chance that this might be the family to become the next part of the child’s journey.

I think we have to take the chance, to try, because it just could lead to something, to the tiniest possibility or to the biggest wonder.

This early winter, I have also reconnected with two other high school classmates for different reasons. It had been many, many years since I had seen any of them. Somehow, though, the time seems to fall away when the hand is extended, and we remember the spots in our souls that were once…and still are…connected.

She wanted to let me know about a doctor that uses an alternative therapy to help patients, and she wondered if this doctor might be able to help our son. She drove to the farm to visit me earlier this month. We had shared a lunch table during our high school years, and now this girl that I had deeply admired was sitting alongside me at my kitchen table. I saw her spark, that same spark that had so often lit up her teenage face, even if she did not realize that it was there. There is something so comforting about those early friendships, where someone knew you almost before you were really even you, and where you don’t have to tell your story, because they already know. But then, aren’t we still who we have always been?

Last week, a third high school classmate brought me a ten-year-old doggie with a heart-shaped spot on his head. I didn’t plan to get another dog, ever. My friend shared his photo and his story, though, and I knew that this dog was meant to be at the farm for the sunset of his life. I brought my two little sons to meet the dog. My friend held him up to the window at the coffee shop. Her fairy blue eyes met mine, and though I had told her that I really wasn’t a dog person but that there was something about this one, she entrusted this tiny dog to my care, because she knew it was supposed to be.

I have never been good with rosemary, though I have loved it above all herbs since I had first planted it in the soil at our first house on Clinton Avenue. The woody stems grow strong through the summer; the pungent, unmistakable aroma wafts up to fill my senses with wonder as I tend to the plantings near the back door. Early each fall, well before the predicted frost date, I am careful to dig up my rosemary, looking nearly invincible as a gardener’s prize to behold, and move it to my white enamelware pot. I am convinced that this will be the year that I am able to successfully winter-over this worthy herb. Mine did not make it to Thanksgiving this year. I bought another one, though, at the grocery store. It had been shaped topiary-style into a tree form. Two weeks later, it was as sparse and dry as my Christmas tree is today.

This Christmas has been relatively peaceful, as much as can be with nine children and twenty-two animals at home.

There’s a lot of brightness even in the shadows. Sometimes, we just have to look a little bit.

As my helper pulled ornaments from the tree, I was struck by the resilience of the special few that have remained since my childhood. They were shining stars along with the golden tinsel of my early years. The shrub-haired pixie was with me through my first dance recital, the flocked Santa knew that I had eaten way too many chocolate kisses the year that I decorated the tree with my friend, and the bright green Humpty Dumpty was there to meet me when I came home from college at Christmas. They will be tucked away for now, but they will be waiting when the seasons circle back once again.

I had to visit the garden store to pick up a few last-minute Christmas gifts. A leggy rosemary plant stood at the counter where I checked out. I took it home with me without much hope that I could keep it alive. A couple weeks passed. As I watered the scented geraniums that were faring well in the kitchen window, the light purple blooms caught me by surprise. My rosemary plant had flowered!

Long ago, I learned that rosemary stands for remembrance. I often wonder how I could ever forget. The small things that are so much a part of us never really leave; how could they?

When this moment’s journey does not seem to make sense, the shadows just might be holding the real meaning. A child’s time with us is brief, we have lost touch with a friend, and we worry if we have done the right thing.

The fires are quieter now. For today, the what-ifs are no longer cause for worry. I have a little old doggie curled on my lap, and I am reminded of the treasures that my years have returned to me.

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