We all have things we’ve forgotten tucked away in the back of the fridge. A good cleaning now and then will surface some things that are barely identifiable and, frankly, a little scary. But those of us who are nostalgic creatures, like the delightfully fictional Duchess Goldblatt who dispenses desperately needed ascerbic wisdom on Twitter (of all places), also store away a few things that just might come in handy on a depressing day
I like the idea of taking these long summer days, the countless hours of daylight and slowed-downness, putting them in a box and pushing them to the back of fridge for safe-keeping. I might even label it “open in case of emergency” or “don’t open until December 25” or “fragile – handle with care.” In the darkest hours of winter, when I need a booster shot of light, I would bend down to look as far back on the fridge shelf as possible, pushing aside the jam jars and the left-over pea soup and the blocks of cheese, and reach for my rescue inhaler.
I would lift the lid on the box of summer hours and take in a deep breath to remind myself of dewy mornings with a bit of fog, a scent of mown grass, a hint of campfire smoke. But mostly, I would open the box to smell the roses of summer, as no winter florist rose ever exudes that fragrance. It has to be tucked away in the summer hours box in the back of the fridge. Just knowing it’s there would make me glad.
You love the roses – so do I. I wish
The sky would rain down roses, as they rain
From off the shaken bush. Why will it not?
Then all the valley would be pink and white
And soft to tread on. They would fall as light
As feathers, smelling sweet; and it would be
Like sleeping and like waking, all at once!
~George Eliot from “The Spanish Gypsy”
It was gardener/author Alphonse Karr in the mid-19th century who wrote that even though most people grumble about roses having thorns, he was grateful that thorns have roses.
There was a time when thorns were not part of our world, when we knew nothing of suffering and death. Yet in pursuing and desiring more than we were already generously given, we received more than we bargained for. We are still paying for that decision; we continue to reel under the thorns our choices produce — every day there is more bloodletting.
So a Rose was sent to adorn the thorns.
And what did we do? We chose thorns to make Him bleed and still do to this day.
A fragrant rose blooms beautiful,
bleeding amid the thorns,
raining down as we sleep and wake,
and will to the endless day.
Abandon entouré d’abandon, tendresse touchant aux tendresses…
C’est ton intérieur qui sans cesse se caresse, dirait-on;
se caresse en soi-même, par son propre reflet éclairé.
Ainsi tu inventes le thème du Narcisse exaucé.
~Rainer Maria Rilke “Dirait-on” from his French Poetry collection ‘Les chansons de la rose’
(Literal translation of “So They Say” from “The Song of the Rose”)
Abandon enveloping abandon, Tenderness brushing tendernesses,
Who you are sustains you eternally, so they say;
Your very being is nourished by its own enlightened reflection;
So you compose the theme of Narcissus redeemed.
There is a fragrance in the air,
a certain passage of a song,
an old photograph falling out from the pages of a book,
the sound of somebody’s voice in the hall
that makes your heart leap and fills your eyes with tears.
Who can say when or how it will be
that something easters up out of the dimness
to remind us of a time before we were born and after we will die?
God himself does not give answers. He gives himself.
~Frederick Buechner from Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale
“Let Him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east.”
― Gerard Manley Hopkins from “The Wreck of the Deutschland”
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
~William Butler Yeats from “Easter, 1916”
It has been a slow coming of spring this year, seeming in no hurry whatsoever as we all shelter in place, isolated and lonesome for one another.
Snow remains in the foothills and the greening of the fields has only begun. The flowering plum and cherry trees finally have burst into bloom despite a continued chill. It feels like winter at night yet the perfumed air of spring now permeates the day.
Such extreme variability is disorienting when we are desperate for something – anything – that feels routine and normal. It is almost like standing blinded in a spotlight in a darkened room.
This is exactly what eastering is like. It is awakening out of a restless sleep, opening a door to let in fresh air, and the stone that locked us in the dark rolled back.
Overnight all has changed, changed utterly. We, who have been wintering and weathered, weary and withered, are transformed by the Light.
He is not only risen. He is given indeed.
Life is a stream
On which we strew
Petal by petal the flower of our heart;
The end lost in dream,
They float past our view,
We only watch their glad, early start.
Freighted with hope,
Crimsoned with joy,
We scatter the leaves of our opening rose;
Their widening scope,
Their distant employ,
We never shall know. And the stream as it flows
Sweeps them away,
Each one is gone
Ever beyond into infinite ways.
We alone stay
While years hurry on,
The flower fared forth, though its fragrance still stays.
~Amy Lowell “Petals”
The stream of time flows ever faster,
rushing away my remembrance of yesterday,
the quiet moments today,
my hope for tomorrow.
Every day – a petal thrown into the cascade –
disappears one by one, never to return.
What of my dreams will last
as they droop and drop and scatter?
It is a lingering fragrance their roots leave behind;
that is how to be remembered.
Flowers preach to us if we will hear:
The rose saith in the dewy morn:
I am most fair;
Yet all my loveliness is born
Upon a thorn.
The poppy saith amid the corn:
Let but my scarlet head appear
And I am held in scorn;
Yet juice of subtle virtue lies
Within my cup of curious dyes.
The lilies say: Behold how we
Preach without words of purity.
The violets whisper from the shade
Which their own leaves have made:
Men scent our fragrance on the air,
Yet take no heed
Of humble lessons we would read.
But not alone the fairest flowers:
The merest grass
Along the roadside where we pass,
Lichen and moss and sturdy weed,
Tell of His love who sends the dew,
The rain and sunshine too,
To nourish one small seed.
~Christina Rossetti from Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems
Some sermons are written bold with color, illustrated with powerful gospel stories of righteousness and redemption in the face of our sin.
Some sermon passages are fragrant with the scent of grace and forgiveness, lingering long after the words are spoken.
Some sermon stories remain subtle and hidden, cryptic messages like the blooms that grow close to the ground, barely visible.
We need to hear them all preached, but most of all we need those every day plain-to-the-bone sermons which are trampled and tread upon, springing back up to guide our feet to the best pathway home. No color, no fragrance, no hiding: just celebrating the ubiquitous lichens, mosses and grasses and weeds which exist solely to help cushion our inevitable fall and help us rise up again.
For a long time
I was not even
in this world, yet
opened in perfect sweetness
in gracious repose,
in its own exotic fragrance,
in its huge willingness to give
something, from its small self,
to the entirety of the world...
~Mary Oliver from “The Poet Visits The Museum of Fine Arts”
This time of year, I go out to our flower garden twice a week and pick several fresh rosebuds for the bud vase on our kitchen table. This feels like a luxury to interrupt the natural unfolding of a blossom simply so it can be enjoyed indoors for a few days. Yet “its huge willingness to give something” grants me permission to do this. I am consoled that there will be more buds where those came from. The blooms will continue to grace our table until October when the first hard frost will sap them of all color and fragrance, leaving them deadened knots of brown curled petals. They give no more for seven long months.
I wait impatiently for that first spring bud to appear, forcing myself to wait several weeks before I begin rosebud harvesting. Although roses from the florist may be perfect color and long lasting, they are neither as sweet nor their scent as exotic as those growing in the soil right under our windows.
It is a wee joy receiving this humble gift from the garden. It is enough that a rosebush in gracious repose gave its small self long before I was and will continue long after me. I hope I am as willing to give something from my small self during my time here, and may it ever be as sweet.
~Edna St. Vincent Millay “Dirge Without Music”
and trek to a cemetery high above Puget Sound
to catch up with our relatives who lie there still.
Some for over 100 years, some for less than a decade,
some we knew and loved and miss every day,
others not so much, unknown to us
except on genealogy charts,
their names and dates and these stones
all that is left of them.
(as we know for ourselves and others)
was beautiful and strong, though wrinkled and frail,
was hopeful and faithful, though too soon in the ground.
We know this about them
as we know it about ourselves:
someday we too will feed roses,
the light in our eyes transformed into elegant swirls
emitting the fragrant scent of heaven.
No one asks if we approve.
Nor am I resigned to this but only know:
So it is, so it has been, so it will be.
First fluid flows in trickling stream
then gushes in sudden drench
No longer pillowed inside,
pushed and sliding,
following the rich river
An unforgettable fragrance of birth,
the soak of pungent brine
clings to shoes, clothes, hands
as I reach, again and again, to embrace new life.
Remembering, I too was caught once;
three times emptied into other hands,
my babies placed wet on my breast,
their slippery skin salty to my lips.
Now only attending barn births,
in a moment’s whiff of amnion
the rush of new life
once more smells sweet and rich.
The scent of damp foal fur
reminds me of other beginnings:
I still float downstream
longing to be caught once more.
“The smell of that buttered toast simply spoke to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cozy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one’s ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender; of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries.”
~Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
I’m not a practitioner of the ancient art of aromatherapy for medicinal purposes but I do know how effectively smells can transport me than any other mode of travel. One whiff of a familiar scent can instantly take me back years to another decade and place, almost in time traveling mode. I am so suspended in the moment, both present and past, my brain sees, hears, tastes, feels everything as it was before.
The most vivid are kitchen smells, to be sure. Cinnamon takes me back to my Grandma’s farm house, roasting turkey to my mother’s early morning labors on Thanksgiving Day, fresh baked bread to the years I needed to knead as tactile therapy during medical school training.
Today it is the smell of oatmeal on the stove that reminds me of those frosty winter mornings rushing to get out the door in time to catch the bus for the long ride to school.
It’s not just food smells. When I have the privilege of babysitting infants, I drink in their smell of baby shampoo and powder, so like the soft velvety smell of my own children a quarter century ago. Out in the barn, the newly born wet fur of my foals carries the sweet and sour amnion that was part of every birth I’ve been part of: delivering others and delivering my own. My heart races at the memory of the drama of those first breaths.
My garden yields its own treasures: tea roses, sweet peas, heliotrope, lemon blossom take me back to lazy breezes past blossoms planted along the house, wafting through open bedroom windows. The fragrance of the earth after a long awaited rain– petrichor — reminds me of dusty dry summers crying for relief.
I doubt any aromatherapy kit would include my most favorite–the farm smells: newly mown hay, fresh fir shavings for stall bedding, the mustiness of the manure pile, the green sweetness of a horses’ breath.
Someday I’ll figure out how to bottle all these up to keep on hand forever. Years from now my rambles will be over, when I’m too feeble to walk to the barn or be part of the hay harvest crew any longer, I can sit by my fireplace with a purring contented cat, listening to the soft rolling twitter of my sleepy canary, then close my eyes, open this bottle of memories and take a whiff now and then.
What a journey I will take, back to a day like today, a day that speaks to me with no uncertain voice.