Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Gumbo Limbo Tree Knows the Truth: Love in the Face of Loss

I've spent my whole life hearing that humans are the only creatures who have a knowledge of death, both ours and others, and who have to figure out how to live in the face of that reality.  We are the only creatures who know that everything and everyone we love will eventually be lost.  But is it true?

This morning, just before 5 a.m., I stood on my front porch, as I so often do.  It's both a centering practice and a way to gauge the weather, all sorts of weather.  I looked at the 4 Gumbo Limbo trees in my front yard.  They've had at least 4 different sets of residents of this house to observe.  Do they miss the family with the toddler that lived here once?  Do they think about the fact that the toddler would now be a teenager?  Do they observe me looking at them lovingly and hope that I'll stay around a long time?  The recent decade has been such a time of residents coming and going so quickly, both at my house and throughout the region.

Do the Gumbo Limbo trees look down the street towards the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic beyond?  Do they sense the sea creeping towards them?

I headed out yesterday expecting a work day of dull meetings.  Instead it was a tumultuous day, full of meetings within meetings, flipped schedules, no lunch ordered because of the more pressing priorities.  It was a day haunted by that line from The Wizard of Oz:  "People come and go so quickly here."  

I spent the day surrounded by people, many people, some of whom I see more frequently during a work day than I see my spouse.  Some of the faces were completely new.  Some of these faces I've been seeing for over a decade now.  I tried not to focus on the faces that are now absent.

I wrote a completely different poem than the one I anticipated in yesterday morning's post.  Suddenly, this first line made me queasy:  "What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?"

Luckily, my writer friend sat in front of me.  Our challenge for January is to write a short story inspired by the word "spell."  She told me that she had her first line:  "The sky tells the truth."  She said that she didn't like the way it sounded, but I played with it anyway.  I wanted an Epiphany poem, but something more.  I started with obvious words, like Wise Men and star.  In a corner was an interesting variation on a ball gown on display for reasons unknown to me, which made me think of wedding dresses.  I ended the poem with "The truth shall set you free."

I planned to post it this morning, but I left it at school--so it will be a treat for the future.

I passed the poem to my friend--some people pass notes, but I pass poems.  I've known her for a long time, so when I saw her delight, I decided to keep the poem, this poem which began as a doodle of sorts.

Bone weary at the end of the day, with a stunned discombobulation that no poem could cure, I drove home.  I found myself weeping as I heard the news coverage of all the gay couples who spent the day getting married on the very first day that gay marriage became legal in this state.  I found myself moved beyond belief at the tales of long-lasting love--and at the coverage of people who showed up to cheer on the people getting married.

I love the ways that we remain defiant in the face of losses that are surely coming.  Surely these practices help us stay rooted, like the 4 Gumbo Limbo trees in my front yard. 


Stacy said...

I was really touched by this post. Your Gumbo Limbo trees in your yard are truly stalwarts! The Gumbo Limbo tree can symbolize much for us: It is very tolerant of salt, it thrives with very little care, it provides us great shade and cover, it is food for many bird species which are traveling though on the great migratory pathway, it has been used as a living fencepost for many years, it has a resin which can provide waterproofing and the same resin is also a powerful glue. Don’t you think the qualities of the Gumbo Limbo could help us all in difficult situation? Because of your post, I am now thinking of the Gumbo Limbo as a symbol for strength, consistency and reinforcement. Time to plant one in my yard!

Kristin said...

Thank you so much for your comment, Stacy! Wonderful additional insights here. And when you want some seedlings, I think we always have plenty sprouting up in the yard.