My mother-in-law has just spent several days in miserable pain after radiation treatment for cancer. Knowing that she was hundreds of miles north, her children scattered from California to Colorado to Wisconsin, has put me on edge. Fortunately, her husband (who has not felt well for months) is being amazing, and he is finding, within himself and his church community, the strength to go on.
But all the same, I am itching to jump on a plane. I would love to make butternut squash soup and read Wendell Berry aloud, clean the bathroom or collect autumn leaves to bring joy to her bedside table. I don't want Roger to have to worry about the trash or meals or transportation or anything but communicating to his wife the intense love and devotion he has for her.
We have not had a smooth and idyllic run of it, my mother-in-law and I. My husband and I have been all about making a mark in our family different than the marks of our upbringings. That she has managed to be so gracious to us is suddenly amazing to me. She understood our need to be Us, and she has had to stretch her own comfort zone to find room for the ruckus that is our family. Take our family size, as one small (or is it huge?) example. For a woman with serious environmental convictions, this has created plenty of opportunity for her to stretch.
On a recent visit, she and I had a chance to be alone together in the car for a bit. Roger had been having a bit of a health crisis while she was gone, and it brought to light the brevity of life. I asked her what her thoughts were about staying on the island where she lives if Roger died first. She told me that she had entertained thoughts of living in our granny flat. Oh, I cannot tell you the joy that brought me. I would love a chance to live next door to her, learning and stretching and growing with each other. I know the rich reward of that, and I was thrilled that she would even consider it.
Even when things are looking so fragile, as they are right now, it doesn't mean the whole jig is up. There could still be those days. But yesterday I realized that I had let that dream take root in my heart and it made me sad to imagine that it might not happen. I can understand if she chose a different option, but knowing that she is so ill and could have a short time here on earth, well that just did me in a bit yesterday.
And so Claire and I got in the car and drove to the nursery. It was wholesale day for the regular customers, and we found a few plants to add to the front yard beds. But the crowning purchase of the day was a maple tree. The price was right, the color is majestic, and it is a TREE, a grand and glorious tree. Part of its beauty and grandeur is the autumnal display of red and gold, and soon those leaves will be gone. But spring, ever hopeful spring, will come and the leaves, Lord willing and we don't kill the thing, will grow new and green and abundant. The branches will reach for the sky and seasons will continue to change. Time will move on.
There was something in my restlessness yesterday that was soothed by planting a tree.