rowan

there’s a little rowan tree growing in my garden. well, at the moment, it’s sleeping soundly. but last fall, i received a small sapling, grown with love by a twitter friend and gifted to me when i visited his garden. sorbus pseudovilmorinii: a distant relative of our native serviceberry, with lacy fronds for foliage and red berries that turn white as the season turns from summer to winter.

i brought it home and spent a week or two plopping its pot down in various spots: too dry, too wet, too shady.

one day, while i was weeding in my main flower bed, i stopped and looked at the slowly decomposing stump of my late beloved tamarack tree. a delicate monster that turned the color of heartbreak in the autumn, germinated right around the year that i, too, germinated, it had been toppled in a wind storm and i’ve never stopped missing it.

i sat that day in the warm soil, sadly remembering my stunning tree, covered with red rose buds in spring, compact brown cones in summer, and bright gold needles in the autumn. suddenly, i thought how fitting it would be to fill the hollow rotting base of the tamarack with good soil and put the little rowan there, to honor my old friend and nourish my new one. to make the best of the ruin of love. to start a hopeful story that would write itself out on the long pages of this garden.

i find myself at a juncture in my life just now. i’m calling it a midlife crisis with a bitter little self-deprecating laugh. approaching fifty, i’m not the person i thought i always was. as a younger person, i wore my heart on my sleeve. i laughed and cried easily. i loved to be in love. i wanted to spend time with people and learn about them. somehow, i became a hard thing, a stone, a person who pushed through grinding and excruciating emotional pain and learned to stop feeling it altogether. what i didn’t really understand was that becoming invulnerable to hurt also meant that i was impervious to simple joy. when the switch is off, it’s off. everywhere. oh, certainly i had moments of unalloyed happiness. the triumph of a perfect daylily blooming. a sunset the color of heart’s blood. my beautiful, complicated children. time spent with dear friends. in those moments, there was something that almost tasted like bliss. i convinced myself that it was perfect happiness because i couldn’t remember how the real thing felt.

then, a few weeks ago, a thing happened. it was not an important thing in the grand scheme of things, just a small, unexpected, and beautiful kindness that opened my heart up so wide that it broke. for the first time in actual, literal years, i cried. i wept. and i couldn’t stop. i still haven’t stopped. i am an exposed nerve, raw and stinging.

and i am drowning in regret. self-recrimination. sorrow. resentment. and the only person i can find to blame is myself. sure, there were people who hurt me along the way. life-shattering events that were beyond my control. looking back, i’m not sure that i could have handled anything differently in those catastrophic moments with all the knowledge that i have today. but i blame myself for allowing anything to snuff out my vibrance, vulnerability, and joy.

i ruined that part of myself. it cracked and fell in the mighty wind of my own hurt. i cut it up and hauled it away and burned it to cold ash. but here, in the newly warmed soil of my heart, are the roots of where it once stood. i can’t recreate it. it’s gone. but i can plant something else there, something new and hopeful. something different and beautiful in its own right.

like the rowan, i will thrive in the place where something tired and flawed died, accepting both sun and rain alike and sleeping peacefully when the world is cold and unfriendly, knowing that i will wake again and grow and bloom and sway in the wind without toppling over.

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