I looked at Connie’s Garden this morning and was saddened by the fact that we are coming to the end of another season.
We live in Lakewood, Ohio. Lakewood is a mixed community, a small city actually. Lakewood has all the diversity and charm you could ask for and I have come to like it very much. We were forced here by circumstances beyond our control a few years back. I was deathly ill and fighting for each and every day. I was in the hospital two weeks out of every month for almost four years, had multiple surgeries, and was in pretty bad shape. I thought my life was over.
I often tell people the choice of residence when we moved here was really a simple one: It was a choice between a 1992 Chevrolet Cavalier Station Wagon and our present home.
I am not exaggerating!
We’d come to the end of our rope and, quite literally had nowhere else to go.
So, we moved to Lakewood and into the house we now call a home.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear, (Oh my gosh! Did I just sound like Richard Nixon?) I hate to move. Even when it has been to move up and into better circumstances and surroundings…I hate to move!
Consequently, we have remained here much longer than many would have.
In one way, this house is a daily reminder of how far back we have come. It is also a constant reminder of how hard, capricious, and unforgiving life can be. It is a mixed message…and a mixed blessing. I am certain we will move on, and up, again. But for now we make the best of what we have…and what we have together.
Many spouses would have left long ago!
But Connie is different, she is wonderfully loyal and fiercely protective of her family and the life she has. I guess that includes me.
Why would she have left?
Because, for a while there, it just got too hard, being in my orbit. And, because almost everyone else did.
It’s a funny thing about serious (i.e., life-threatening) illness and the challenges that come with it, people just don’t know how to react.
For a while, people will do almost anything they can to help. They pitch in with the kids, drop off meals, make calls on your behalf, and stop by to visit. However, after a while, when it is clear the road is longer and much more complicated than they originally thought, they begin to distance themselves.
I guess it just gets too hard. People expect a happy ending, they expect you to get better, for everything to be alright. So, when it takes longer…they just can’t handle it and begin to fade away. It is normal, it is understandable, and it is very, very sad.
By the time we came here, to Lakewood, everyone had faded away and we were utterly alone.
I remember when we moved in here…
I told her it would be OK but I knew she was devastated.
For a while, things actually got worse and I moved ever closer to the end of the line.
But life is funny and once in a while you get a break. Or, you make one for yourself? Sometimes, it’s a combination. I think mine was a bit of luck and a bit of being sick and tired of being sick and tired.
In any event, I started to improve. I was still in and out of the hospital, a lot. But I was making a turn for the better. It looked like I was going to make it.
It was then that Connie bought her first flower pot.
As I started to show signs of life, it was almost as if Connie began to show signs of life, as well.
The flower pots were, at first, a big investment as we were still struggling financially. Crushing medical bills and the wreckage of a life-saved were becoming a real issue…
…but she bought more flowers.
Then, something amazing happened.
At about the time I had reached a turning point, a single, seemingly trivial act of kindness from a total stranger (Tony Robbins*) gave me just enough courage, hope, and faith to fight.
I did…fight, that is.
And the rest is reflected in Connie’s Garden.
Last summer Connie planted her first flower garden in years. It was a sad little thing but it represented hope and love and all that is good in life…and in my wife. And, I think, it reflected her love for me. I smiled whenever I looked at that garden because, while appearing so sad to anyone else who might have stumbled upon it, it was magnificent to me.
This year, Connie’s Garden is full of flowers, still small and still a bit sad looking, sad looking to anyone who doesn’t really understand Connie, our family, and what we have endured.
This year, the Connie’s Garden is a triumph!
So, when I looked at Connie’s Garden today and noticed that the flowers hadn’t bounced back quiet as quickly from yesterday’s heat and last night’s rain, it saddened me a bit.
It also reminded me of how far we have come and how everything in life cycles.
We all have good days and bad, good experiences and bad, times when everything we touch turns to gold and other times when every challenge we face seems to go against us. It isn’t that life is against us. It is simply part of a grand design, a process of birth, struggle, renewal, and constant growth.
I see that now. It has taken me 55 years but it is a clear as any lesson I have ever learned.
Would I have made it without Connie?
I doubt it!
Will Connie continue to plant flowers and make my life, our lives, beautiful…bet on it!
Ultimately, life is about faith and hope and family and love…unconditional love.
All the things in Connie’s Garden!
You see, we are all Connie’s Garden, our entire family, and, by extension, anyone in our orbit.
The wonderful thing about all of this?
Connie will continue to tend to us, nurture us, and love us.
Because there are some people who, no matter what the challenge, no matter how hard the ordeal, and no matter how much pain…
…will always plant flowers.
I am…the luckiest man on Earth…because I am part of Connie’s Garden!
Thank you for allowing me to share this with you; to share a bit of something very personal, and special…my love for a very special woman, my life.
* You can see the post I am referring to and Tony Robbins’ comment here. There is also a video follow up if for some reason you are curious.