December often conjures up complaints about the cold, snow shoveling, and dangers of falling on ice, but just as often I am awestruck by winter’s beauty contrasted against a backdrop of barren starkness. And so is life. One is necessary for the other.
So, rather than more of the usual holiday hype for this month, I’m focusing instead on Mother Nature’s vivid gifts. What comes to your mind this season…?
No surprise to me, this inspirational sentiment about a garden’s virtues. What is surprising though, is that it was written by the Persian poet Saadi who lived more than 700 years ago. Can you imagine the beauty he beheld then, before industry dominated our planet? If I find a garden breathtaking now, I wonder what it was like for Saadi to see? Could it have been even more beautiful…more uplifting, more astonishing than the way it fills my heart now?
Coming into the house, after what appears to be the last unseasonably warm October day, I glimpsed again at the magnificent colors punctuating the grey cloudy sky — burgundy flowering plums, orange maples, yellow-green birches, tanned leather oaks, fiery red sassafras — their leaves twirling in the wind then freckling the autumn ground.
I didn’t think much about gratitude while growing up. Actually, I’d say I was pretty ungrateful in those years. Raised in a dysfunctional family — although I didn’t know that’s what it was then, just that my father would rage at a moment’s notice — we often ran for our lives. Literally. It wasn’t until I married a man in a 12-step program that I considered the word gratitude.
While my new husband’s recovery from prescription painkillers opened the Al-Anon door for me, I couldn’t relate to others struggling with loved ones’ active addictions because my husband already had three drug-free years when we met. In times of angst, I turned to gardening but it couldn’t eradicate a darkness I felt deep within. And then I found a different 12-step meeting — ACOA. For the first time in my life I felt I belonged, and tasted true fellowship.
Listening to others traumas from similar or worse upbringings lessened the impact of my own. I now realized my family wasn’t the only one that didn’t look like Norman Rockwell Freedom from Want or Freedom from Fear paintings. Feeling safe and unjudged, I unveiled the shame that overshadowed three decades of my life. I now understood my father as a rageaholic and how this ill-affected our family. (This is the early 1990’s before recovery became a buzzword and rehabs became multi-million dollar businesses.)
Twelve Step meetings — of any kind — frequently discuss gratitude and suggest keeping a gratitude journal to heal the spirit. My gratitude can be as simple as I’m grateful the sun is shining, for the joy my dog gives to me, or for my eyes to see the beauty around me. It is a daily prompt in my thoughts illuminating my heart.
A gift of the Twelve Steps is learning to live life instead of just surviving, existing, staying sober or stopping an addiction. Hearing someone share, “I was so busy looking at the thorns that I didn’t see the rose,” changed my life forevermore. I now look for gifts in unanticipated circumstances rather than see challenges as problems. The more I became grateful, the more I’ve had to be grateful for.
A few more decades later, I’m still evolving and learning other shades of gratitude. I’ve come to realize and feel grateful that the darkness of my youth led me to 12-step recovery. The Twelve Steps expanded my spirituality and lessened my fears to try new things and be who I really am. I evolved to become passionate about hand drumming which led to my interest in the Tao. My understanding of the Tao and life grows through gardening. Coming full circle, I more fully understand and am grateful for all the layers of my life. As my 12-step friend once told me, “The gift is as great as the pain.”
Dazzling greenand metallic blue dragonflies transformed my summer to autumn. Taking in the colorful, changing fall landscape yesterday amid September temps, I was mesmerized when a silvery golddragonfly as sparkly as Christmas ribbons landed on my garden chair. We both sat perfectly still for the next few minutes, its lipstick red mirrored dots on gossamer wings captivating me.
Surely, clothing and fabric designers must get their ideas from nature I thought. And then my view cast to the maple tree reflected in the pond, and the pathway illuminated from a myriad of golds, greens, browns, oranges and reds that painted the cherry, pear, oak, magnolia and unidentified trees.
I felt awestruck that nature could beso endlessly beautiful, even while dying.
But, then I decided to look at it another way. Just as the dragonfly transforms so does the tree. It may shed leaves until it stands stark and bare but there is a regenerative undercurrent; it is not approaching death, it is transforming, preparing for another season, for another time, for the vitality of Spring.
My view of the seasons reflecting life — birth (spring), prime of life (summer), mid-life (autumn) and end of life (winter) — has also transformed. No longer do I see only one life cycle. Nature is teaching me more about life and what I use to call death. More and more, I am convinced the end is not the end per se. Life, for us, for trees, for seeds has many cycles. I’d much prefer to think I’ll continue to grow and evolve than to die back and out. The roses return. Perennials too. Trees grow new leaves and bloom in the spring. Again and again and again.