I used to own 40 rose bushes.
They came part and parcel with a house my new husband and I bought in Boise, Idaho — when we were young, in love and wanting to settle down and start a family.
The roses were a riotous mix of colors and shades, lined up prettily against a low weathered gray fence in a sunny courtyard of our new backyard. The windows from the kitchen, eating area and sun room looked out at them. They were in constant view and not easily ignored.
I preferred to grow vegetables back then and was intimated by the responsibility for these roses, so fragile and elegant — and not at all like a melon or head of lettuce in usefulness.
Still, the roses had been growing at this house for a long time. And someone, or a succession of someones, had cultivated and maintained them – perhaps loved them. I was learning to honor love and ready for new responsibilities. Now that the baton had been passed to me — I did not want the roses to die on my watch.
I diligently studied rose cultivation with books borrowed from the Boise Public library. (These were the days before Google!) I mounded loose acidic bark at the base of each bush and put in soak-er hoses to keep their shallow roots cool and damp through the hot Boise summers. I fertilized them, vigilantly watched for disease, picked off aphids and clipped spent blooms. That first fall, instructions in one hand, sharp new clippers in the other, I pruned them rather far back – reducing them to ugly gnarly stumps. I had a few winter months of worry that I had killed them.
But no, they were consistently resilient and reliable, dying back each fall and blossoming beautifully each spring we lived there. The death/rebirth metaphor for my own life is easy to see now with the distance of age.
The roses came to be a source of pride and joy for me. I needed something alive to cherish and nurture, so I showered those 40 rose bushes with the love I was unable to give the child we could not conceive.
Now, nearly 60, with spring on its way, reminding me of my roses and those heady glory days when opening to new love was easy and untainted by its potential for crushing loss, I do another little bit of grieving for the past.
I know that some years later, after we had moved, that beautiful house and its 40 rosebushes burned to the ground — just like my life did, or so I thought, for several years after my divorce.
There are things you can not know about love until you have loved and lost. There are things you can not know about how to live and honor life until you have been burned to the ground. I could not know these things back then.
But I do know, that as long as I am alive, there are still lessons about love ahead of me.
There were brilliant autumn days
where I stood in fields
gone rampant with abundance.
And I was full to swelling and beautiful.
My baby was a round cherub,
and my husband was puffed up with love.
And we were going to live forever.
The days God gives to remind us,
as winter comes,
that in the end,
it was all worth it.