With time and experience (and a tad more humility), I became too focused to allocate time and energy towards image control. Most of the time I’ve served without a care about appearances, content to be the “hired help” without the slightest sting. Sometimes I’d chuckle; other times I’d experience genuine compassion.
Until yesterday. Gardening for an elderly woman in an upscale retirement community, I was blindsided by a look. Just a condescending look…a new neighbor walking from her car to her front door next to the yard where I was hunkered down over pansies, covered in mushroom compost. I lifted my head to introduce myself and met her distain like a slap in the face. I was a little girl the last time I wanted to hurl a clod of dirt that badly. I restrained myself. But I was taken aback by the loathing that flooded my peace. I immediately began working out what to say, editing and patching together a scathing string of words to knock the wind from her before she realized she was being attacked. That’s exactly what I did…planned an attack, and then fine-tuned and fantasized about it. When she didn’t come back outside, I was disappointed. I’d become enraged by an older woman’s gaze. My desire to belittle her alarmed me.
I’m thankful I had such a physical outlet to help drain off the adrenaline bath I unwittingly took. A day later, I’m still shaking my head at the intensity of my reaction and grateful the poor woman stayed inside her house. Even as I write this now, I can sense the contempt aching to well up in me again. I remember feeling it as a child. I was listening to a neighbor talk about her hired help. She frequently used a hideous word to describe the man who faithfully served her family for years, doing home repairs and yard work. I’d sensed honor in this man. My confusion at her words and attitude grew to dislike and then disrespect. She was the ignorant one, I came to believe. Hers was the smaller life.
I close my eyes and revisit the cheerful man with walnut brown skin who skillfully cared for my neighbors home, gently removing burdens from her every week and leaving her world better, safer and more beautiful each time he left. I remember watching him standing on a ladder, whistling while he worked….like a bird he seemed to see and know things we couldn’t taste below. His bending and kneeling to serve seemed heroic in my young heart. It stirred something inside me that’s grown into much of who I am today. I love the heart of a servant. I want more of that…..and to be one that doesn’t wince and rage and roll my eyes when others don’t share the beauty I see when I watch those hearts in action.
St. Patricks Day 1979. Daffodils were blooming, breezes turned balmy and I pulled off my shoes for the first time since summer, letting my swollen feet tramp across the warming earth. I was pregnant with my first baby….due today. For weeks I had ached for time to stop….squeezing myself shut to the coming contractions and separation. The word “relinquish” hung heavy on my heart.
But today, the weather had quickly turned; Spring rushed in like living oxygen…lifting fresh color from the tired brown. I felt, with relief, that everything had changed….this fresh palette erased all of the before. Spring had come with it’s own dreamy wildness and waves to ride far from the loss looming over me. I spent the day soaking in the sun and listening to the trees whisper high above me, gently rocking the tire swing I’d played in not so long ago. I was newly seventeen…an “unwed mother,” with an unwanted chore hanging over my head: to give my baby to someone who deserved her. Soon she would come apart from me; someone would bring me papers to sign…official words saying that I relinquish this child and choose, instead, a good life for my baby. She would be gone before the leaves flushed out. Their buds were fat and ready to pop….like me. I went quiet with the knowing.
The next day was as lovely and it got inside me. But late that afternoon, as the sun began to dip low, a painful rumbling grew deep inside me. I felt an urgency to press back against a pushing forward. The rolling tightness became swallowed panic as grownup voices began herding me into the night toward the hospital. I couldn’t do this….couldn’t have this baby. It was bedtime and I wanted to crawl under the covers and cradle the life inside of me one more time. My body didn’t cooperate. It was betraying me now….forcing me into a cold sterile world full of tight lips and disapproving eyes.
As my frightened parents helped gather my things, I scrambled back into the house for just one last moment alone with the tiny life that had shaken my own with her gentle worth. I crept down the hall towards my bedroom, lowering my heavy frame onto the bed for one last lullabye. No song would come; only tears. It was a disappointing goodbye. I followed strong contractions back down stairs to the car and into the night. That was thirty one years ago. Nothing will ever erase the bright beauty of those days with baby “Rose”. I returned home, arms empty, a few days later. I never saw her again. But I remember her essence, like a fragrance, and am frequently swept into it’s sweet melody as it drifts across my heartstrings. I recognize the song. This is the thirty-first celebration of her birthday…of the wonder of her life. I allow myself to remember those days before she was transplanted into the garden where she grew and thrived. Today, I let my mind drift back to those shimmery days when it was just us…when she was still mine.
As winter turns to spring, I’m feeling the tug of a changing tide in my own life as well. This much change is unnerving; I’m grateful for tender reminders to let Love’s eyes meet mine. My heart settles into an easy rhythm as I return to this sunny stone wall that guards me from cold winds, resting back into it’s warm, supportive strength. Again, His gentleness breaks me…all of my air is because of this. Maybe this is the plan….me standing under a shower of love burning wildly over me, raining down white hot sparks melting holes through the masks I’ve worn until there is just me…..no additives or fillers or pretty packaging. Just me, broken down to the simplest form. Organic. Raw. Real. Loved.
I’m still sweaty and disheveled with the struggle. But I’ve found my resting place; I’m parking here. This is home.