The Daily Muse
Life and rain intervene. We are now waiting for the soil to dry to begin the work of preparing the backyard for planting. However, my recent absense from these pages stems from other reasons... for most of the past three weeks I have been away, helping to care for my brother who was just diagnosed with a "virulent" form of cancer . He is my little brother, a funny phrase since he is an inch taller than me and has a weight lifter's physique, but, I have rediscovered what it means to be a big brother in the last few days. That has been a gift. More than anything, what has sustained me through this very threatening crisis has been a sense of gratitude- I am thankful that he called on me for help, thankful for the enduring love of our family, and thankful for the prayers and kind words of friends and strangers.
I have learned a little bit about prayer throughout this ordeal- prayer can be an action taken, simply to hold his hand or cool his brow. Prayer doesn't need our words, doesn't imply beseeching, though I have done my share. In a few weeks I will plant my cypress allee, for me, that too will be a prayer.
More rain, just when I don't want it, here it comes. I am thankful for the sake of my fellow gardeners and the embattled ranchers of the Hill County, however, I am very anxious to start working on the garden, and now we are facing up to another week in delays.
I tend to believe that things happen for a reason, I know that sounds rather primitive in the face of our advanced "knowledge", but, in my experience, I have found it to be true. My brother's cancer, the rain... out of the chaos of our lives we try to find some order. Perhaps "order" is not the right word, maybe it is "acceptance", I am not sure. I have never been able to discern a pattern from either the upheavals or everyday happenings of my life, but once I have come to terms with what has transpired, it all seems to fit.
I have long valued the Tao Te Ching, that ancient book of balance and wisdom. Its author, Lao-tzu, gently reminds us to trust our own experiences: "If you open yourself to insight, you are at one with insight and you can use it completely. If you open yourself to loss, you are at one with loss and you can accept it completely. Open yourself to the Tao, then trust your natural responses; and everything will fall into place." It is very easy to become frustrated in the world we have created for ourselves- to be overwhelmed when things go wrong. We pride ourselves as a people on not accepting limits or loss, and the only "natural responses" that we are encouraged to trust seem to be greed and self pity.
Believe me, I have lost my balance more than a few times in the past three weeks. Yesterday, I was feeling particularly out of whack- among other things I found myself longing for the familiar rhythms and routines of my old garden. I stopped by today to satisfy that desire. It felt good to pull out my pruning shears and trim a few things back. Perhaps, my need to revert to "psycho pruner" mode was an instinctive response to stress, perhaps not. I have missed the centering that the garden brings, but now that I have been able to do a little real gardening, I feel grateful for the chaos too. "Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity."
(My thanks to Stephen Mitchell for his wonderful translation of the Tao Te Ching.)
Earlier this morning, I cut a beautiful red rose and walked to the cemetery to leave it on my brother's grave. Jeff died just over a week ago, one day shy of his forty-first birthday. He died surrounded by his family, in the very arms of love. As he took his last breaths, I asked him to take a walk with me in the woods that surrounded our childhood home- we had many fine adventures there, following deer trails and forgotten paths. I hoped that invoking that beloved landscape would lead him to a place of rest . Today, I feel disoriented, the geography that I inhabit has changed, leaving me without one of the familiar landmarks that have guided my steps.
During one of those blurry days of crisis in the hospital we spoke about final things- about where he would like to be buried, about what kind of service he would approve of. I asked if it would be alright to bring him to Austin where I could visit him on my daily walks. He seemed comforted by that, and so we have honored his wishes. As I knelt beside the tumbled clay and fading flowers of Jeff's grave, I let him know that he would never be forgotten.
In his final hour, I told Jeff that I believed that God is love, and that love was his destination. Our walk together began with love, too. I loved Jeff from the moment when I first peered at him from the back seat of our 'fifties sedan. I remember my mom lifting him up to introduce us as we sat outside of the hospital preparing to take him home. That love has not died, as long as I am alive it will burn in my heart. I intend to share the warmth of that fire with anyone who cares to listen. I realize now that this love must serve as an internal landmark and guide.
When I returned to my house from the cemetery, the contractor who is going to help me prepare my garden was standing in the front yard. As I write this, I can hear the heavy equipment being unloaded and the voices of the workers. Today, my new garden will begin to take shape. Today, I will begin a new journey with an old friend.
Continue to November 2000
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