Friend Illustrates The Color Of Love
Published: November 17, 2005
I think they are called “morning glories.” They grow on an old fence that stands before a garden that is now fallow, for it is autumn and the time for growing vegetables has passed. The flowers come in several shades—white, violet, pink, blue. I do not know what gives a flower a different color. On each petal there may be a wisp of another color—blue on white, pink on blue. And the center of the flower is a brilliant white, with a delicate stem growing out of it.
The flowers turn toward the sun when they open, for their petals close at night and open every morning, turning toward the warmth and light of the sun.
It is early morning and yet dark. The flowers are surely closed but soon will slowly open and turn toward the rising light of the sun, the start of another day of glory for them. I wonder how long their life is. I know that it is not a long one, by human standards.
Leah was here yesterday. She came from Tupelo to spend a few days with her son, John, who works with us here at the monastery. Her husband Ross died two weeks ago. John was with him when he passed away—he was in his late eighties. I would guess that Leah is a few years younger. Karen, John’s wife, brought Leah with her to the bonsai barn, and I walked down there in the morning, passing the morning glories on my way.
Leah was dressed in white, a pretty pantsuit. Her hair, also white from her years, was neatly brushed and in place. Looking at Leah, I thought of my mom, who always worries about her hair, even though I tell her how pretty it is. Leah and Mom both have macular degeneration, and I know that my mom relies a lot on the eyes of others to see what she cannot. I wondered if Leah needed the eyes of others, but I did not say anything.
She is sweet and so easy to chat with. I told her that I was sorry that her husband passed away, and she smiled and thanked me. We were sitting at a table in the bonsai office, which has a generous amount of light, and I watched it as it shone on Leah, making her white hair shine a bit and giving a warm, soft glow to her skin. Huxley, our ever-friendly barn cat, took a seemingly special liking to Leah and purred and pranced before her on the table as she spoke. He noticed a ring on her finger and proceeded to lick it, then decided it was worth a bite. Leah laughed and moved her finger out of harm’s way. She smiled and told me how Ross had a favorite cat, named Linx because of his big ears, and how Linx was a lap cat—he liked napping in Ross’s lap. Leah said that on the day Ross died, Linx came to her and curled up in her lap—something he had never done before. So we chatted a bit about the wisdom of animals and the lack of it in so many humans.
I also know Leah’s sister and brother, Martha Sue and Paul. They live in Philadelphia but have been here many times. I had met Leah twice before and on one of those times the three of them were together. It was a family reunion and had been a long time since the three of them were together. I was sitting in the yard of the family guesthouse when they greeted each other and embraced. It was an autumn afternoon, and the light of the sun cast a gold-like sheen everywhere. I remember feeling a need to cry when I saw them hug and kiss each other, moving toward each other slowly in that beautiful light. So many years, memories, loves, joys and sorrows, embracing each other through slow-moving and faltering bodies, living vehicles of the great mystery that love works through the passing of years, and only through the passing of years. I remember thinking later how we all want such a huge dose of love to make us feel something kind of wonderful, but love has its own terms, and one of them is its revealing its exacting nature through time—how it becomes the beauty it is through the ordinary passage of minutes to hours, hours to days, days to a year, years to decades. We hold love all the time through time. And it holds us, changes us, and yet we are dimly aware of it. We always seem to be looking for it someplace else.
As Leah spoke I felt the presence of Paul and Martha Sue. I felt them through what she said and how she said it, the lilt of her voice, the smile as she spoke, the way she looked at me. I was surprised at how strong the sense of their presence was. I told John about that later, and he smiled and said that he knew what I meant.
Leah walks delicately—she needs, she said, a cane or a walker but did not have either. Karen suggested that we walk to the bonsai plant area, and Leah said she would do fine without the walker, as long as we walked slowly. Karen offered her arm for support. She told us how good it felt to be in the sun and walking. I parted ways with them when we reached the bonsai area and headed toward the main building. I saw John approaching me, carrying a cane for his mom. We chatted for a bit—I told him how sweet a person his mom is.
As I walked back to the main building, I looked to my right and in the distance I could see the fence on which grow the morning glories. It was too far for me to see them, but I knew that they were there, their petals open to the sun.
Leah has blue eyes—like my mom’s. They are a light shade of blue. Leah’s eyes are beautiful. Their beauty is in no way diminished by their not being able to afford her a clear and focused view of life.
Her years have given her that. And so it is she walks with care and feels her way through what was once easily seen and readily familiar, seeing things more clearly with her heart as she moves along.
Each day is a new page in the writing of God.
Yesterday’s page was beautiful. It was white, and I could see it clearly through the light of the sun. And on that page were a woman’s eyes and soft white hair and a son who smiled as he carried her cane and a daughter-in-law who gently held her arm as they walked and listened as the woman spoke of how nice a day it was. And there were flowers, too, with perfect lines, blurred at the edges where one color bled into another on their petals.
And tomorrow’s page? The morning glories will open and turn to the light. And the eyes of Leah will open, and she, too, will rise to the light and move toward it, gently, with help, wearing her white and that lovely touch that is the blue of her eyes.
Father James Stephen Behrens, OCSO, is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. He is the author of “Grace Is Everywhere: Reflections of an Aspiring Monk,” which is available at the monastery Web store at www.trappist.net.