Gardeners know about life cycles and they know about loss. Gardens see continuous rotations of life and death. For me, losing a tree is the hardest. A few years ago, a powerful nor’easter violently uprooted one of my stately oaks. It was here one day and gone the next. It will take many years for its replacement to mature. Another loss was my own fault, my own carelessness. When my white birch was showing signs of infestation, I mistakenly grabbed and applied the wrong product. After two sprays, I realized my mistake. Although my tree managed to survive the rest of the summer, the next year showed signs of trouble. Each year, I watched it wither away, hoping for a recovery. It took three years but, in the end, it died. I mourned that loss too. Potted plants now sit upon the infertile ground, like a monument to what I lost.
Pruning shears in hand, each morning during the growing season, I snip off the droopy, spent blooms from my marigolds, geraniums, hydrangeas, sunpatiens and begonias. These are also deaths, but deadheading is a necessary part of flower production and I do not mourn them. Dying flowers give way to new buds. The cycle of life tightens, and we see it whole, in uninterrupted sequences. Life and death, joy and sorrow, soldered together, as links on a gold chain. I think of necklaces of life, the relationship between joy and sorrow that nature presents to me.
After the crucifixion and death of Jesus, Mary Magdalene found herself at the intersection of joy and sorrow. Mournfully, she visited the tomb where Jesus was laid, and angels waiting there transformed her immense sorrow into joy. They asked her:
Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.” (Luke 24)
Only recently, have I begun to wear an unadorned gold cross, the enduring symbol of the Resurrection of Christ, near my heart. For years, I noticed men and women with crosses dangling from bracelets, earrings and necklaces. But I wasn’t one of them. There must be a myriad of reasons for wearing a cross as jewelry. And I only recently came to mine.
Intersections of Joy and Sorrow
It is the mingling of joy and sorrow that speaks to me. Throughout the day, my fingers trace that intersection and I find strength, comfort and deep meaning there. The geometric term intersection is a point where two distinct lines meet. It is that point that I seek, the point where joy and sorrow meet. I have always seen God’s amazing works in geometry, equations, graphs, music and art. As a former math teacher, I would often tear up, when planning a lesson for my middle school students. It is wondrous and “one-ness” to me. Perhaps it all springs from the same well as Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet suggests.
“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. How else can it be . . . that when you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given your sorrow is giving you joy. And when you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
Gone from My Sight
I recently gave the eulogy at my cousin’s funeral, another reason for probing joy and sorrow and how they are conjoined. Unlike my mother, who was suddenly uprooted from this earth, cancer gave him time to prepare for his departure. His faithful mother helped him to look at our passing as a transition and a unification: a completion of a spiritual life cycle. He knew when his time came, he would be joining his son, his father and other loved ones, waiting for him on the other side. At his funeral, at his request, I read the poem, “Gone from My Sight”. I experienced the collection of sorrow welling up from the mourners, and simultaneously felt the “here he comes” from the other side. He chose this poem by Henry Van Dyke as his eulogy, a testament of his deep understanding of the intersection of where his life on earth and his spiritual life would meet. As I read the following, my heart was transfixed to one point, the meeting of two thoughts.
I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. He is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch him until, at length, he hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then, someone at my side says, “There, he is gone.” His diminished size is in me — not in him.
Gone from my sight. That is all. He is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as he was when he left my side.
And, he is just as able to bear his load of living freight to his destined port.
And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, he is gone,”
there are other eyes watching him coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here he comes!”
And that is dying…
Love and Sorrow. Two thoughts, uninterrupted. Mingled together. Soldered on the gold chain of life. Presented to us at The Cross. Expressed so eloquently by Isaac Watts in his hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, written over 200 years ago,
See from his Head, his Hands, his Feet,
Sorrow and Love flow mingled down!
Did ever such Love and Sorrow meet?
Or Thorns compose so rich a Crown?
I touch my cross, trace the intersection, feel the mingling of love and sorrow, joy and loss, and the immense well from which it springs.
More from The Prophet:
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.” But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.