“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.” Ecclesiastes 3:11-13 (NIV)
Sometime you may be asked to drive to the capital of a foreign city. If you are lucky, you will be invited to stay in a lovely chateau in that city so you can walk along streets lined with tulips for the annual festival. You will want to drink strong coffee in a mahogany-paneled restaurant filled with quiet French conversation on a sunny weekend morning. Two mornings if your schedule allows. After an invigorating swim in the chateau pool at the start of day.
The question came as she wryly observed my clumsy weeding around asparagus and red currant bushes between her house and mine. Almost ninety, her clippers touched deftly on one plant and moved methodically on to the next. Pruning to promote healthy growth. I stealth-watched her movements. I needed to try and figure out, for the fourth year in a row, how she knew exactly what to clip and what to leave alone. Sixty-some years earlier she and her now-deceased husband had planted the beloved and still-bountiful bushes.
I was the novice who, with my husband and family, had purchased the fruit bushes and beds of flowers. A house was thrown in, too. The property became a home that nurtured us through the challenges of my cancer. Along the way we’ve appreciated the beauty and cycles of tulips and daffodils and irises and rhododendrons and Japanese lilies and elderberries and lemon balm and wildflowers and foxglove and peonies and rosebushes and garlic chives and blueberries and blackberries and garlic and rhubarb and regular chives and hundreds of other wild things, the names of which I’m still learning. The fact I can list off more than two of these – and identify them regularly around the yard – is miraculous.
“Sure! I like an adventure.” God? Thank you. For new adventures and strength to enjoy them.
I continued to watch her deliberate movements amongst the plants. She and her husband had shown us many kindnesses. On Sunday afternoons we had been treated to conversation, tea and her famous apple cake. The first time I had cancer we went for some of those visits with my fanny pack of chemo and chest port in tow. The second time cancer came, she knew I was considering other options to heal my body. She handed me a book about the Gerson therapy and the Gerson Institute Clinic in Mexico. “If you were my daughter, this is where I would tell you to go!” I trusted her wisdom. I followed a similar protocol for raw foods that I could do at home. But the book on Gerson guided my decision about whether to accept a more targeted radiation treatment for the mass that was threatening my life. And how to navigate to health afterwards.
Just then I spied some of the first asparagus spears of spring. I was happy. Like a room-without-a-roof happy. Who would have thunk it. A year ago I had juiced and ate as much of our asparagus as possible before the four-month MRI. It was the first milestone after the second round of radiation and chemo treatment ended and I had returned to juicing and raw foods. That was the “Your mass has shrunk 90% – remarkable” MRI. Seeing the spiky green asparagus stalks was comforting. They knew what to do from year to year. My stewardship had not disrupted their well-being. Yet. Their “being” had helped restore my health from cancer and treatment.
We chatted some more about our upcoming trip over the asparagus and currant bushes. That set in motion three weeks of gymnastics with the helpful local DMV. I needed an enhanced driver’s license. Did you know that if you take your birth certificate, and it is the lovely inscribed version from the hospital that you’ve dutifully preserved for over forty years, it’s no good? The government requires a special, plain birth certificate. I paid extra to have the certificate sent quickly. It worked. The border guard waved us through with a bemused smile after we gave the tulip festival as our destination.
If you’re asked to go see flowers in a foreign capital?
1. Thank God.
2. Say yes.
3. Enjoy pools.
4. Find flowers.
5. Drink coffee.
6. Cherish friends.
7. Be. Happy.