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It is the time of year again, after a long rest, that my heart and hands
return eagerly to the garden. This year, while frost was still imminent, I
visited my local garden center for Johnny jump-ups, those small bright
violet flowers, also known as hearts-ease, which tolerate frost and
brighten the yard all summer.
First, I prepared the soil in the old cauldron which sits on a tree
stump at the end of my walk. I gathered buckets of compost and rotted
manure and mixed them with the dirt already there. Then I went about
the most pleasurable task of planting. These particular plants were in a
plastic six pack. Though they appeared to be thriving on the top, as I
pulled them, I found them to be incredibly root bound. My job was to
release this root ball - pulling, gently, then sometimes hard, so that when
planted, the roots would reach out and allow the plant to thrive. Next, I
pinched back the flowers. This encouraged the roots to be established
more quickly, instead of giving the energy to the flowers. Quickly
enough, the flowers will return - hardier and more prolific, though it
means foregoing the instant look of a flowering garden. And lastly, I
watered them heavily.
The process seemed spiritual, as if God was speaking to me. What if
God is the Gardener and I am the plant, I thought. I would be pulled up,
my roots torn apart, my body forced into manure laden soil, my flowers '
pinched off. Then I would be doused with water. Would I expect to
grow? Would I think the Gardener my friend or even a compassionate
energy at all?
And what if I remained root-bound in the container, where, though
beautifully flowering, I would surely die.
My own personal growing pains parallel this spiritual lesson.

I grew up the middle child of eight children. In 1967, my mother died

at age 43 after a long bout with ovarian cancer, leaving us, ages 5 to 19,

with an alcoholic, withdrawn and angry father. I was 12. Grieving was

not encouraged. We went on, carrying the pain and loss into adulthood.

This spring, for the sixth year in a row , my brothers and sisters have

come together for a trip south. For five days, we have reorganized our

lives so that we can travel to visit my father ,who now lives in Florida.
We leave behind our wide variety of jobs, 25 children, husbands, wife,
significant others and a myriad of dogs, cats and gerbils. We gather on an
early morning to make a journey together - a journey of road miles and
life lessons.

Initially, the feeling that arises in me as we travel together in the van, is
one of deep sadness that joins us all. We share in a tragedy that happened
30 years ago. I always ask why? Why us? We are good people, all of us,
and it doesn't seem fair to have this pain of our childhood - but here, I do
find comfort. Here, it is safe and easy to share our memories, to
remember in a way it is not safe to do in the outside world. It is not only
accepted, it is understood. Although we share the incredible hole this loss
left in our lives, the trip is not all about pain.

We also share our current lives, struggles and celebrations. We share
food, lots of it - recipes and dinners. And laughs - belly laughs and gentle
smiles. We share music of the past and present, and we talk and talk and
talk, frequently into the late nights. The gift to my father is the
commitment to the travel and visiting - sharing ourselves with him in a
loving and giving way. My dad was a WWII marine vet, a wounded
soldier who spent 42 months in South Pacific combat, and who never let
down his guard. At age 81, he has softened and is touched by the love of
his children, and we know that - feel it in a way he was unable to give us
as children.

The return drive home is more quiet and reserved. I feel a mixture of
sadness that it is ending, deep love for my siblings and happiness, and
gratitude to God for allowing me to share in the lives of these seven
wonderful and courageous individuals. I feel my mother's presence - her
peace, and I am sure she is there with us.

It is always difficult to leave our "magic van", to put back on our
masks, to return to adulthood and responsibilities. It is such a gift though
to have eight adult children who unconditionally love each other is not
only rare - it is quite a miracle and I know this and praise God for it.
Despite our "growing pains", we have thrived. Our roots had surely
been ripped apart and our flowers snipped back. We had been left in
manure and doused in painful tears - and returned to thrive.

I never understood the Gardener before.