So beautiful. So hard.


I had the privilege several years ago to go to a writer’s workshop where I met Kate Bowler. She is well-known for her work on the Gospel of Prosperity and for what she has written since being diagnosed with metastasized colon cancer at 34. With immunotherapy that has worked remarkably well for her, it would be more accurate, at least for now, to describe her condition as chronic, rather than terminal, but there is no way to know how long that will be the case.  Kate is as kind, generous. and insightful as anyone I know.  There’s a phrase of Kate’s that has become part of the fabric of hope and consolation in my life. With no pat answers for the why of illness and suffering, she says, “Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.”

Eighteen years ago this week, I was putting a car seat in the back of the Volvo I had bought a few months earlier. I had chosen the safest car I knew of because I would soon be carrying a precious little girl in the back seat through the awful traffic of Southeast Florida.  I had washed about a dozen skivvies and t-shirts for a 24-36 month old toddler, and little socks, too, and jammies and overalls. Friends at work and friends at Sherod’s church had thrown a pair of lovely showers for us so Luz María’s room was filled to overflowing with gifts, from the practical to the utter frivolous and fun. Mary, the woman who first got to know Maria and helped bring us into her life and she into ours, had made a beautiful bed skirt for the small brass bed I’d slept in as a child. I’d sewn matching curtains and together with Sherod, had made a contrasting, upholstered window cornice. Neither my heart nor her room in our home in Fort Lauderdale could contain all the hope, joy and expectation with which we waited to bring our girl to her new forever family.

Last week, we got word that Mary, the friend who found our girl and brought her into our life, has been moved into hospice after a diagnosis of ovarian cancer and all kinds of complications.  We lost touch years ago when she and her family moved, and then Sherod and I went off in our own new adventures, but I have always harbored the hope we’d reconnect and she’d get to see Maria as a young adult.  

 There’s the regret that I did not make more of an effort to stay in touch with a woman who changed the trajectory of my life. Even more, these days, there is growing concern for my María.  For two months, she has been slipping away from us in a new and unexpected way. First, we began to hear her tell  somewhat bizarre stories, like that she’d gotten married and was pregnant.  Then, she stopped talking to us almost completely. She had been calling, sometimes several times a day, and it just stopped. We call her daily as well and now, she refuses to come to the phone. The one time I’ve spoken to her recently, her affect was way off, her voice was shrill, the content of the conversation deeply disturbing: “Mama!!!! You are alive! I brought you back from the dead”.  No gentle challenge from me could convince her otherwise.

Yesterday, we had a phone consult with her support team.  Like us, they thought at first this was a new attention-seeking strategy. After all, María has been endlessly creative in her quest to get all the attention she could. But in the past, when ‘psychiatric symptoms’ manifested themselves, we had an effective plan that would quickly help her stop trying to get attention that way. This time it has not worked. It is more accurate to describe her now as quite frequently delusional, and possibly, hallucinating. The affect is too different.  The withdrawal is too real.  Later today, the next consult is with her psychiatrist.

There are more questions and fears than I can put words around. There is also all the accumulated joy of small and simple, and sometimes breathtakingly grand moments, with my daughter over the past 18 years. On March 3rd, when I am at Cursillo and Sherod is with María to celebrate her “Gotcha Day,” I know I will once again be overwhelmed by the knowledge she is the best thing that ever happened to us.  Kate has said it best: “Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.”

Spring is the smell of wild garlic

The weather has been crazy around here: two weeks ago, a tornado that flattened a lot in a town close by. Then, days that started in the low twenties and today, a high of 78 and tomorrow it goes up to 81.  I am not the least bit fooled, at least not this season.  The climate is changing and within my life time, it is possible our world will be so turned upside down that everything we knew about the seasons will be unrecognizable but we are not there yet. That’s why, on February 6th, 2019, I am not fooled; we are yet in that time when winter is still winter.

For now, spring is the smell of wild garlic, sharp and pungent. It announces itself as I walk out the front yard, to put things in our trash bin close to the road. It’s there when I stand out on the deck in the back of our house, waiting for Tux to do her business, alert because when I got up this morning, the coyotes were howling their laments too close by for comfort.  Some evenings, I lean down and clip a handful of delicate stalks poking out through the browned grass of winter and go in to add them, chopped, to my baked potato, a simple meal turned into a feast of brightness.

At first, spring does not smell sweet and subtle; spring smells loamy and penetrating and persistent.  Maybe that’s because before it can be sweet or gentle or kind, it has to be strong and persistent.  I didn’t know that spring takes so much effort. Pushing through the dark earth towards the light can only happen bit by bit, with pauses because the cold is so cold and more has to be asked of the earth for a seed to keep growing. What I most remember about my first spring here is the day when I looked around and all manner of flowers were blooming and the grass had stopped being lifelessly brown, and the trees had the green glow of a million tiny new leaves that had finally broken free, into the sunshine. 

This time around, I want to urge the buds and the shoots not to quit, to resist the urge to curl up in a ball and keep the dreary cold at bay.  I appreciate the guidance wild garlic gives me, the places that smell invites to go look for that may need my quiet non-cheerleader cheers. I follow my nose and then keep going a bit more, bump into our cherry tree that was stripped bare months ago. It might not look like much, almost like just another part of winter, but look again. The bumps and swells along stems: they are decidedly not about winter. 

I may think I can urge the growth to happen, the winter to part in two so more can come rushing in, but that’s nothing but foolishness on my part. I have to wait. Before it can be anything else, spring is a promise.