As women of a certain age, we’ve come to embrace our mortality as we rise to our eternity
A couple of decades ago, while employed at a large retail greenhouse, I met a lovely woman 12 years my senior, whose company made the hours pass quickly. We often worked together in the hoop-houses — plastic greenhouses framed with aluminum ribs — at the back of the retail area. Those production houses were the hottest of all 20, being low and lacking adequate ventilation.
Each spring we’d spend 50 or more hours a week, often in 90-degree heat, hauling potting mix, containers and 200 feet of heavy hoses. We potted hundreds of perennials, filled thousands of flats with seedlings and for a million times a day bent our backs as we moved plants from work bench to floor.
Using employee discounts, our home gardens were expansive and beautiful. We would go from sweating in the greenhouse to perspiring in our yard. From spring bulbs pushing through snow to frost-tipped mums in autumn, a full season of riotous color filled our respective gardens.
We loved the work. We were once strong and sturdy.
I recently learned that my friend had been removed from her home a few months ago. While driving to the nursing facility, I felt my throat tighten as I realized she would not experience Easter in her yard. For gardeners, that holiest of Sundays is special, a kind of hortus divina — all things resurrecting.
At the care facility I sat close to my friend in her small 8×8 room. She’d had chemotherapy, which they said cured the cancer but also helped bring on three strokes. She was left barely able to walk, her partially paralyzed throat — though she spoke clearly — necessitated a feeding tube. Though frail, her strokes were not obvious — no drooping limbs or facial distortions — and her mind is clear, her wit as quick as ever. There are days, however, when the pain is so bad that she is medicated practically into a coma. My friend’s bright blue eyes calmly looked at me from a face lined with suffering. I looked back with compassion and without pity. We are Christians.
As women of a certain age we’ve come to embrace our mortality as we rise to our eternity. We’ve watched each other (and our spouses) enter the Land of Decline, reached only after traveling long and bittersweet trails.
This Lent, the lengthening of days that portends spring’s new life and new growth brings something significantly different to my friend, than to me. She has moved nearer than I to the growing light, and I find myself longing for the intimacy she’s coming to know.
“Abide With Me,” Henry Lyte, 1847
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word,
But as thou dwell’st with thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.
Thou on my head in early youth didst smile,
And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left thee.
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.
I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB, is a Benedictine oblate, living an eremitic life, and an author. Her works include The Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac.
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