If you’ve been a follower, it probably won’t alarm you to hear that we moved Uncle Wally into the back yard. (Uncle Wally is our baby Walnut tree who is not such a baby any more.) It’s not surprising how easily and quickly he outgrew his space by the front door. But we were more than a little amazed at the strength and depth of his roots.
On hands and knees we dug for three days. The impressive tangles crept deeper and deeper. Impossible to just pull. So this is how he did it. Does it. Stands against the Mistral (the winds of provence).
There are times in life when we are asked to do the same. Forced to dig to the very depths of our soul and hang on. And it’s hard and it’s messy, but when you find it, when you get to the roots of your very heart and soul, and see how strong they really are…it’s then you stand a little taller. A little stronger. It’s then you have the strength to not only withstand the wind, but provide a stable force for someone else. Someone still fresh in the dig.
We can do this for ourselves. For each other. I think we’re meant to. Grab hold. Dig deep. It’s nature at its finest.
I had played on teams for years before I understood that the “A” in “Bring your A game” didn’t stand for Alexandria. But I liked that it did. I mean I always knew that it meant the coach wanted us to be our best. To do our best. For ourselves. For our team. For our hometown – Alexandria. I suppose, in a joyful way, I will always want to do my best for this place.
Now there are other cities that do this for me as well. New York. Paris. They make me want to be a better artist. A better human. I read books by great authors, in hopes of becoming a better writer. I visit museums. Watch videos. Sketch. Learn. Repeat. And maybe most importantly, I try to surround myself with people who are doing the same. Not the same things necessarily, but trying to do their best at whatever they do. Because as we learned in school, you always play better against the better team.
My mother (Ivy) didn’t know anything about sports. But oh, did she have game! And she brought it. Even in her toughest times. She brought it with style. Elegance. Lipstick. Grace. And an endless supply of breath mints in her purse. She taught me more about winning than any coach. Any team. Winning was playing when you didn’t feel like it. Winning was getting up. Getting dressed. Presenting your best self to this world. Not to convince them, but to convince yourself — you were worthy, you were someone. Winning was laughing beyond the tears. Winning was loving, beyond a cracked heart. Winning was teaching your daughter to be her best. Do her best.
I have a lot to live up to. That is not pressure, but a welcome challenge. The sun is coming up. I reach for the best inside of me — not just my A-game, but my I-game as well. I smile in the mirror. And put a breath mint in my purse.
Nature has it right. Never is it more beautiful than when it is about to grow. Full blossom. And proud! “Look! Things are changing,” the trees say joyfully in pink and yellow and white. If they are afraid, they don’t show it. And the transition can’t be easy. They are awakening from winter. Changing shape. Having to rely on sun. On rain. Fully exposed.
The obvious teacher of this would have been my grandfather. A farmer. Riding, guiding, nature’s wheel. And he did — teach me. Never shying away from the difficulty. “I can’t glamorize the dirt,” he told me. It was real. Rocks needed to be picked. Hands would be recognizably changed. But each year he too changed the fields from black to green to gold. Fully exposed. Fully beautiful.
But maybe the best teacher was my mother. When her seasons changed abruptly from married to single. From sure to uncertain. Fully exposed, each morning, she willed herself into the light. Smoothing the lines on her face. The seams of her skirt. Allowing the painful blossom. Allowing the beauty of growth.
The petals slowly falling on the trees remind me, it is once again my turn. It’s time to grow. Fully exposed, but never alone. Each petal a sign of those who have gone before me. In perfect harmony I hear them. My mother, my grandfather. “Look,” they say, “things are changing!” My smile blossoms. I am not afraid.
Today our yard burst out with yellow flowers of joy! I can think of no other reason than it was just so happy to see us.
You have to go to the edge of our property – in the tree line. You won’t see them just in the middle of the lawn. We were cleaning up the yard after being gone for a month. Moving slowly with the jet lag. I don’t know why I looked down the slope, but there they were. Hey!!! Look! I was awakened by a sea of yellow.
I suppose everything is about perspective. How we choose to see things. Yes, a new season is approaching. We’ll close the pool. Change our routines. And at first glance, that can seem a little, if not sad, melancholy, but then the garden tells you – “Hey, there’s life here too! Don’t forget about us! Take another look!”
There are some things bouncing around in my head. Someone did something recently that I didn’t like — I mean really didn’t like — and my weary brain likes to keep dribbling that ball of negativity. But I have to be the one to let it go. No one else can. And that’s not always easy, but I had a thought last night. You know those late night thoughts that keep you up. A line occurred to me — “I take it back.” Now some might think that means I take back all the things I said in my head…no, I meant those things. Still do. My brain would still keep saying them if I let it, and maybe even more… like saying “No!” more, and saying “No more!” But what I take back is my own life. My own joy. I have a sea of yellow blooming just for me, and this is what I have to choose. Yellow! I choose to be yellow!!! So when those thoughts come creeping, as they are famous for, I will grow over them and take it back. I will take it all back. My yellow life.
Maybe there’s only two ways to look at things — there is no point to anything, or there is a point to everything.
I am a bedmaker. Some might ask, “What’s the point? — You’re going to mess it up again tonight.” I understand. But for me, I like a made bed, so I make it. And it matters to me. It starts my day the way I like it. So it goes with everything, I suppose, we either decide that it matters or it doesn’t. And that’s how I fill my day. My time here.
One of my dearest friends is a hospice nurse. She had a patient. A woman. This woman knew what was happening. She was completely aware. Not naive to the very brief time ahead. But one day, when this hospice nurse arrived, the woman was busy. She was planning next year’s garden. What would be planted and where. Seeds. Earth. Growth. All going down on the plan. On the paper. And that’s how they spent their day. Their whole day. Another nurse asked, “Well, is she in complete denial?” “No,” my friend said, “Today she just wanted to spend the day living. Not dying. Doing something she loved.”
I pray I do this every day — spend the day living. So I write the stories. Paint the paintings. Some might ask what’s the point? Did the painting sell? Were the words best sellers? The point is in the doing. The making. The living. And it matters. I have to believe that. So I wake up early, sort through the words — the seeds of my heart — and I plant my garden. Every day.
It’s summer in Aix — our peak tourist season. We were just walking through town – going to Dominique’s dentist appointment. I wanted to feel what they were feeling – the tourists. I started looking around. Wow. It really is beautiful! I took a few pictures. The houses, the churches, the scent of the pink flowers — I saw it all again, for the first time.
We decided to stop at the fish market. We bought some sea bass (loop de mer) for the barbecue. And some vegetables for the plancha. Some rosé wine for the imagination. We ate slowly in the summer air, and I fell in love, again, for the first time.
The world is pretty extraordinary. But we have to decide to see it, every day. I suppose that’s why I paint. In these moments, I have to forget all the “well, I’ve seen this before…” — all the “it’s just another day…” — forget the noise of “but this… and this.. and my…”. I have to just stop, and see something for the first time. Look at the flower. It’s brand new. It’s waiting just for you. I stop a bit of time, a vacation from my brain, a tourist in pink.
Most of the time, we leave the wild flowers in our yard. They seem to thrive outside. On the occasion that I bring one or two inside, I’ve noticed something special about them. Just as if they were outside, when the lights go out and it gets dark, they close up for the evening. When I open up the shutters, letting in the morning light, they open themselves up again.
At the moment, we have a bouquet of florist lilies received as a gift in our salon, and a couple of wild lilies from the garden. True to form, the wild lilies open and close, and the florist lilies stay open. All are gorgeous.
I have been guilty throughout the years of trying to be an indoor lily. Thinking I could only be loved if I was like the others. Nature has a way of sorting things out, and I have learned. I’m still learning. There is so much beauty in being yourself. I am not perfect. I may not even always be chosen for the center bouquet, but in my wild and glorious way, I have a place at the table. I am beautiful and I am loved. Please know this. Please learn this, again and again if you have to. The wild lilies know. And as they open and close, it feels like a secret wink in my direction. A wink, to say, “You belong beauty, just stay a little wild.”
On the box it said four to five weeks. But yesterday, just two weeks in, this one tulip made its entrance. Popping up to say hello. Telling the others, “It’s not so bad at all, once you make it through the dirt. In fact, it’s lovely. Blue sky. This glorious light. Come on up!”
Change can be so difficult. And we don’t always get to be prepared before we’re asked to grow. Struggling through lessons of muddy soil. Life will get you dirty. No doubt about that. But then the sun. That glorious sun. Always there, smiling, even when we try to take credit, saying, “Look what I did! I found the sun!”
Now that’s not to say you can’t be proud of yourself when you get through. That’s a big deal! And you should be happy about that. And perhaps the best way to celebrate is to show the others that it can be done. Bring them along. Because you never know which role you will be in. Some days you will be the strong one, popping up early, other days you will be deep, deep in the soil. Be gentle when you lead. Gentle when you follow. We’re all just trying to get to the sun.
I received this tiny flower for May Day and I put it in the bathroom. It’s only been 48 hours, but I don’t know how I will ever live without it. I thought I loved this shelf before, but now… I will forever want something green. Something growing. Something alive.
They say that about love. “When you know, you know…” But the problem with that is, you only know what you are taught. And until someone loves you, shows you what real love is, how can you possibly know? And I’m not just talking about romantic love — I mean all of it – the “thy neighbor”, fellow man, global, empathetic, understanding, forgiving, curious, ever kind, evergreen sort of love. Because that’s what love is. Love doesn’t make mistakes. Humans do. And we fail all the time. I fail all the time. But I have been blessed to see what real love is, maybe only glimpses, and maybe that’s all the human eye and heart can handle of this beauty, but what I’ve seen makes me want to try. Makes me want to do better. Like Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” Oh! To be better!
Today I give thanks for all those who have shown me, taught me about real love — all those sprigs of green that have lit up my heart. I wish it for everyone — a love forever growing, forever green.
May Day in France is all about two things: muguet, pronounced “moo-gay” (lily of the valley in English) and Labor Day. On the 1st of May friends and family offer each other little sprigs, bouquets or whole plants of lily of the valley for good luck. The more little bell-like flowers the plant has, the better the luck.
We used to make May Day baskets in school. Gifts for our mothers. Construction paper. Scissors. Glue. Making them was not that hard. We had cut and pasted so many times before, and in the security of our desks and under the watchful eye of our teacher, we easily constructed baskets of pink and blue and green. The most difficult part came after the bell rang. Releasing us into the wild. It was a small miracle if your fragile basket of May could survive the bus ride home.
I would cup the basket like a baby bird in one hand, and straight- arm my other to protect it. Bus fumes. The wind through the windows. Wild boys. Sick girls. Anything could destroy my tiny little basket. With my sweaty, nervous legs stuck to the fake green leather bus seat, I guarded my mother’s gift with my whole heart. I suppose I’m still doing that. I always will.
Today we will bring flowers to Dominique’s mother. Tiny little bells of luck. Fragile symbols of hope and care. Giving this to each other, probably our most important work of all. Happy Labor day!