Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese,” From Dream Work
Such a heavy word, despair.
Such a heavy, sad, hopeless, lonely word.
Tell me about your despair, Friend, and I will tell you mine.
Out earlier today on the important errand of getting still-warm, 22-cent croissants from my local bakery, I walked past a driveway with its gate open, a rare occurrence here in the city. When I slowed my gait to peek inside, what I saw for only a couple of seconds was a cute little cottage with red geraniums in the window box planters. Immediately, grief welled up inside of me.
My mom lives in that cottage with the red geraniums in the window box planters. Every morning (early), she sits out in her front-yard garden under the fig tree and drinks her coffee, reads her Bible, and thanks God for the day she’ll be spending with her grandkids. She finishes her coffee, takes another look at the mountains, and heads inside to make a bite to eat for breakfast. She sits at her little table with her bowl of oatmeal and fresh fruit, and through the always-open window she watches birds hop around the new feeder she bought last weekend (she was giddy as Steve hung it for her). Soon, I arrive with my boys in tow. (I have her gate key. I have her door key. And she has mine. Visits are rarely planned.) She scoops up Memphis as the other two boys hug her legs. I walk over to the kitchen counter to grind coffee beans for my cuppa. The morning could not be any more gorgeous. Birds are singing, sun is shining, puffy white clouds contrast the blue sky. As my coffee brews in Mom’s French press, we chat about our day. Mom needs to go to the market, as do I, so we decide to go together for our fresh-fruit-and-veggie haul. We’ll swing by my apartment, drop the kiddos off with Steve, and leisurely browse the produce.
Mundane, really, but so beautiful.
I started daydreaming about the type of house my mom would buy down the street or around the corner from us back when we lived in Michigan. But she said she needed to work a little bit more to be able to support herself through retirement. And we didn’t have kids yet.
We moved to Florida in 2008, and before we had time to feel settled in our new house enough for me to start thinking about where my mom would live, I got a call from my mom’s good friend telling me that she was in the hospital. Mom had gone in for her routine colonoscopy (that she had been dreading and putting off) and had stayed because the cancer was so bad that surgery was the only — and immediate — option.
Cancer was not a part of the plan.
But this new plan dictated that less than a year after her diagnosis, my mom would pass away.
Processing the death of the person who cared so much about my mundane life?
I’m still processing. So as I walk by the cottage with the red geraniums in the window boxes, I grieve all over again.
And to add a little cruelty to it all is that graffitied on the outside wall of my apartment compound is the word “CANCER.”
My mom was supposed to be here, in Quito. She was going to retire and move to wherever my family was. A huge perk of being an only child, I thought, was that I and my kids would get my mom 100%. She’d live in a cute little cottage with red geraniums in window boxes. She’d have a little front-yard garden with a fig tree and a swing. She’d sit out every morning with her coffee and Bible and thank God for the day she’d be spending with her daughter, her son-in-law, and, most of all, her grandkids. We’d interrupt whatever routines she had, and she’d love it. We’d have coffee together and chat about nothing at all. Maybe we’d go to the market.
Mundane and beautiful and too good to be true.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you about mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
. . .
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
My family doesn’t include my mom anymore — not on this physical earth, anyway — but Oliver reminds me that the world offers itself to me. The red geraniums, the fig tree, the mountains, and the birds? They are my family, too. I thank God for them. And I thank God that he gets to spend the day with my mom.