In a white clapboard house nestled near a pond deep in the woods, an elderly woman knits in her chair. Family photos in various sizes decorate the walls and dozens of small frames cover the surface of the table behind her offering a glimpse into the passage of time that has brought her to this day, this hour, this moment. Nearby, on the slouchy sofa amidst faded pink floral pillows her curly white dog catches the warmth of a fire. All around are plants in various stages of growth with one or two lying dormant near a window, some blooming now even in the dead of winter, for the woman has a gift and can do magic with flowers no matter what the season.
There is a generosity of spirit about the woman who has kept steadfast and engaged, always kind and gentle in dispersing nuggets of wisdom as she adapted to the vicissitudes of her eighty plus years. Though she has lived well, she has had her share of disappointment and heartache. She has felt the cold hand of despair, the sharp stab of loss. Dotted around the house are small stickers of positive affirmations, one taped to the fridge, one stuck beside the NY Times crossword puzzle, and still another loose on the counter. She moved to this house (a smaller version of the sprawling place down the road where she raised her family) with her late husband after their kids had grown and scattered. For a long time grandkids splashed and played in the small in-ground pool, but they too grew up and moved on. The pool sits idle now, covered and overgrown with weeds, the fence gate rusted shut. A few recognizable pieces from the first house are still here: the round marble coffee table, the bronze sculpture of the dancer, the spinning wheel where the woman spun baskets of pale fuzzy yarn in days gone by. In the bay window sits the well-worn gathering table where family and friends lingered over food, ostensibly just to chat and share stories, but more often seeking refuge from the blows of living. The door was always open at this house. Here, there was no judgment. The woman knows that no one person is more special than another, that life itself is the greatest leveler. Above the fireplace hangs the woman’s beloved cross-stitch, a work that caught my eye the first time I saw it more than thirty years ago. To this day, it captures my heart.
“Flowers Leave Some of their Fragrance on the Hand that Bestows them.”
Last spring, those of us in the woman’s inner circle who could make it made our way to the white clapboard house to help celebrate yet another birthday. As we stood around her kitchen island watching her blow out the candles on her cake, I thought about all of the gifts she had indeed bestowed upon us throughout the years. The literal gifts were easy to remember and were almost always handmade: a scarf she had woven, a gold crocheted box, napkins she had sewn, special cuttings from her garden, and of course, the flowers ... many times just a small bouquet or a single precious bud. It was the intangible gifts, however, that were too numerous to count, that I treasured the most. The words she spoke, the comforting hand on the shoulder, the reassuring smile, the promise of all the good in the world. Just knowing that she was always there and so willing to help meant so much to all of us.
The woman looked up with her beautiful face filled with emotion. “I just want to thank everyone for this gift of having all of you here like this,” she said.
“You’re the one who is the gift, Libby,” I answered. “You have taught us how to love unconditionally through your example and what better gift could we ever ask for. We love you.”