In my garden right now, all the seasons of life are happening and all at the same time. Some things are just beginning life, other things are in the bright sweet middle spot in the life cycle and other things are all but played out.
A tender hydrangea bud promises of beautiful things to come in the months ahead.
Plump winter berries provide a vivid spot of red in a gray January winterscape.
Neither rain, nor hail, nor sleet, nor snow… shall cause this stubborn leaf to loosen its grip. This is the only leaf left on my Japanese Maple. I have to admire its persistence.
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There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.
~ Ecclesiastes 3:1
Not far from where I live is a two-lane road that used to connect one small town to the next smaller town.
Most of the other streets around here have been turned into four-lane roads lined with stoplights, Starbucks and subdivisions with fancy sounding names. But not this one. It has no curbs or sidewalks — it is a lane, it is a breath of country in a burgeoning suburb.
For a half a mile or so, you can drive along under a canopy of Live Oaks and past long stretches of Kentucky white fences that hold back horses and a few small stone houses which care not for progress or the new millennium or subdivisions with precisely trimmed boxwoods and pansies all in a row.
Along this lane, there is a mysterious old house that hides back behind a thicket of brambles. The only time you can catch a glimpse of it is in the winter, after all the leaves have fallen from the trees, and then only if you are driving slowly and know to look for it. Perhaps the brambles grew up around the house to protect it from the world that had grown up around it.
As I was driving past the house just the other day, there were no cars behind me, so I slowed to get a better look at the old house. It is mid-January now and all the trees have given up their leaves to winter except for the Texas Live Oaks which are quirky and stubborn and won’t shed their tiny leaves until spring.
I stopped and rolled down the passenger side window to peer into the tangle of gray vines and briers. The mostly naked undergrowth would yield nothing more than a puzzle-piece size view. But it was enough. It was more than I had ever seen before. Through a tiny peep hole of brambles, I could see a once grand two-story home with white columns which shelter a big porch.
At the street, there are two crumbling columns of bricks that flank a rotting wooden gate held up only by the thick and woody trumpet vines that have overtaken them. At one time, the gate lead visitors right up to the big porch. But not anymore. No one had passed through that gate for years.
I saw in my rearview mirror that another car was approaching behind me. Disappointed, I pushed on the gas and moved on. I left with mixed feelings. One the one hand I felt as though I had won something, some bit of information. On the other hand, I didn’t really know anything more than before I took the time to stop and peer into the underbrush like a Peeping Tom.
I drove away thinking about how it is in winter, when all the abundance and jewelry of life falls away, that hidden things are revealed. It is then that we tend to slow down and peer into the underbrush for that glimpse of something special.
When life is green and good, we just drive on past.
One of the things that Sean got in his Christmas stocking from his Memaw was this sort of glow stick gone wild. It’s three glow sticks on a battery-powered stick that spins like a fan when you push the button.
So the two of us, being the odd, offbeat, creative types that we are, decided to see what would happen if we went into a dark room and took some pictures.
We got some very interesting images. Here are a few of them.
Life is short. Take a lot of pictures.
Yesterday I was eavesdropping chatting on Twitter and I saw that my friend michaelsownmom was talking about how her little boy waved and shouted a greeting at a woman who was walking down the street, but the woman didn’t respond. And understandably, that bruised his feelings just a little.
I replied to her that my six-year-old does the same thing – if someone is walking down the sidewalk in front or behind the house, he’ll stop what he is doing and holler Hi There! and wave with his hand high in the air, sometimes until they are clear out of sight. I added that I really have to fight the urge to stifle him, but really, why?
MichaelsDaddy chimed in that he sometimes feels like he needs to protect him from the rejection of those who won’t respond in kind.
I think every parent can relate to that, the overwhelming urge to protect our babies from the hurts and rejections of the world.
If I am to be honest though, I think one reason I want to temper Sean’s enthusiasm in shouting greetings to all who pass is because, for reasons unbeknownst to me, it’s a little embarrassing. We tend to not do that kind of thing much these days and our world is probably a little darker for it.
But like MichaelsDaddy, also known as Tom, I too want to protect my baby from those who won’t acknowledge him or respond in kind.
But the cold reality of life on this planet is that there will always be a steady stream of rejection to be had. So, from a practical standpoint, why not start practicing now? Why not get used to rejection from complete strangers so that way when he grows up and is on Twitter and gets notice of 14 unfollowers, it won’t hurt his feelings. As much.
But immeasurably beyond that, to stifle him would be to counter the exact thing I’m trying to teach him – always reach out, always extend kindness to others, even when it is not acknowledged or returned.
I wrote about Uncle Claude here recently and how he was a major influence in AD’s life. As such, we often talk about him and we often talk about him to Sean.
Oral tradition, the telling of and retelling of family stories, connects us to those who came before us, those who had a hand in shaping us in some way. Their stories are our stories and our stories are our history. It is the through the knowledge of history that we know from whence we came, and to some degree, for better or worse, who we are. (And perhaps it is why I love history so much.)
We tell Sean about how Uncle Claude would quietly go around town doing nice things for others, mowing lawns and fixing things. We tell him how he and Aunt Jean took in AD and his mother and brothers for a time after AD’s father died. We tell him how he served our country and how he was a war hero. We tell these stories so that he might have an understanding of who Uncle Claude was, how he shaped us for the better and how he was, in our eyes, a great man.
But he’s only six. We don’t really know how much of these stories he absorbs and remembers.
But, truth be told, maybe we tell our family stories because we need to tell them moreso than because he needs to hear them.
Be that as it may, late last week Sean and AD were sitting together on the sofa and the evening news was on in the background. A segment came on enumerating all the famous people who had died in 2009 — everyone from Walter Conkrite to Soupy Sales. When it was over, Sean turned to AD and said, “I guess we missed the part where they talked about Uncle Claude.”
I had to laugh, not just at the idea that the national news would mark the passing of our beloved uncle, but also because Uncle Claude died before Sean was born.
But I did pause to ponder what the news would be like if they did more stories on ordinary people doing good things and less stories on famous people doing bad things. Wouldn’t that make the world a nicer place? I think so.
But then again, Uncle Claude would never seek nor accept the spotlight or the applause of human hands. And that’s part of what made him so great. He spent his life seeking another kind of applause, another kind of spotlight, another kind of reward.
I like to think that one day in heaven, on the nightly news, there was this story:
“Today in the greater Tuna metroplex, a man who goes by the name of Uncle Claude went on a goodness spree. After tossing the football with a fatherless boy, he mowed the grass at the church. Later he fixed a broken screen door for a widow lady. There were no eye witnesses. He was last seen driving a 1977 Ranchero. Back to you in the studio, Gabe.”