I like looking at my winter flower garden even though not much changes in Michigan in the winter. My winter flower garden is basically soil covered with mulch and dead leaves with a few bare twigs sticking up in the air, but I look at it for signs of hope. Planting spring bulbs in the fall has always felt like an act of hope because winter is coming and everyone can see that everything dies in the winter – at least it looks dead. I went out with my camera the other day, looking for signs of hope in the garden that has pretty much died back.
I look for hope in the new shoots from my perennials that come up early in the winter. And so many plants sprout buds in early winter, maybe trying to get a head start on spring that is so many months away. Spring is a sign of new birth, of seeing things come to life. After the long dead winter we look forward to new life. But I remember the year my mother died of cancer in March and that spring I didn’t want to see the green shoots and the leaves coming out in the underbrush. I didn’t want to see the daffodils and other early bulbs. I needed to feel the pain of death a little longer before I was ready to embrace new life.
My winter garden and the promise of new growth next spring got me thinking about hope. Maybe I’ve been thinking about it because of the pain I’m feeling for all the people who lost someone in Connecticut on December 14, and everyone who is experiencing loss because of wars and political unrest and because of violence in neighborhoods and homes. I’ve been in a reflective mood, however, for some time. Maybe it has to do with reaching a certain age.
We search for and hang on to hope at many times of our lives. I remember when I was just entering adulthood, I hoped for a good life with the man I loved and was going to marry. Then I hoped that I would be a good parent and that I would be able to give my babies what they needed. I wanted to believe that I would be good at the work I was doing so I could gain respect and better jobs. And I hoped that I could compete and be successful when I went back to school in my thirties.
We went through some tough times in our marriage, a few years into it, after the honeymoon phase wore off. There was a time when we didn’t know if we loved each other anymore but we had three small children and we had made a commitment to each other. That was a scary time – really scary. I remember lying in bed one night talking about what we were going to do and one of us said s/he was really scared. One of us reached out and took the other’s hand and one of us suggested we pray. I don’t remember who did what but it doesn’t matter because we were floundering together. Problem was, we were so scared we didn’t know how or what to pray. We just lay there, holding hands, moaning, with tears running into our ears. We were clinging desperately to the hope that we would be able to work it out. We did.
Another difficult time was when I became sick with a chronic illness. I have written about how I felt my life was falling apart and I was losing my sense of self. My husband was also really scared that he was losing his life, the life he shared with me. I’m not going to say more about that because I wrote about it here and here. I kept going because I hoped that I would be able to regain the life I had lost – and then I started to believe that I could regain a new kind of life. A life that is different but fulfilling. I wrote about that here.
I think I am searching for, watching for, signs of life in my garden right now because I realize I have a limited amount of life left. No, I haven’t been diagnosed with a terminal illness or am sucidal, but I do know that I might only, at best, have 20 years of life left. It sounds strange when I think that it is only 20 more birthdays, 20 more springs, 20 more holidays like Christmas and Easter. And both my husband and I talk about the fact that the other may die – and neither one of us wants to lose the other.
This type of thinking is a whole lot different than when I was 20 and believed that I had forever ahead of me and thought 30 was ancient. Or being 30 and realizing that I was just starting my real adult life. Or being 40 and realizing that I still had over half of my adult life left. It is funny, but at about age 40 we begin to think about years left instead of how many years we have lived. And then I turned 50 and realized that this was my prime – I had really hit my stride, I was confident. I didn’t like turning 60 but soon realized that there are some benefits to being over 60 – like discounts and more freedom to say and do as I want. I’ve even learned to love being retired.
As I look toward another year, a new year, I am realizing that turning 70 isn’t too far away. I have a lot of questions about what lies ahead. Will I be able to adjust to the new, inevitable challenges that lie ahead? Sometimes I think about the energy I use to have when I was young, but it seems okay that I now have less energy because I actually enjoy taking life slower and have found ways to do what I want to do with the energy I have. Will I reach a point where I will be unhappy because I don’t have enough energy to live life? Research indicates that successful aging is most related to quality relationships and reasonably good health. I don’t worry about relationships because I have lots of good friends and know how to make new ones. I am also an introvert so I can be happy with solitude. I worry about health because I don’t feel I have a lot of control over that, even though I am trying to live a healthy lifestyle. But then there are a lot of things that happen to us that we don’t have control over.
You know what? I think I will continue to look for signs of new growth in my winter garden. I may be entering the winter of my life but I don’t believe I have stopped growing. I have been resilient all my life and have had a strong drive for physical and emotional health. I have always been strong and determined and a fighter. I also have a strong faith in God that guides me and sustains me. Maybe there are some things in life that don’t change. I have Hope.