When I was young, I had a lot of freedom to roam our property. Though I usually explored with a friend, I often kept my Dad company. Together, or as a trio with my Mom, we would trek to the creek, to our cabin nestled in the woods. Dad would always have some reason but truthfully he just wanted us to be outdoors. My parents taught me to notice things. We would be intent on finding morels or Mom would crave a bit of bittersweet for the table.
The creek flowed at the edges of the property, and I learned to respect it’s changes from season to season. In early Springtime, it’s current could be fierce for a little-known brook trout stream in Northern Michigan. Some years water seemed to come from every direction, rushing, roiling, banking first this way and then that, roaring it’s pleasure at being free to tumble into nearby Black Lake. In other years it would just chortle and chuckle it’s way down to the lake. No matter what Springtime is a glorious season for the Stoney Creek.
Later the steamy Summertime would find that same stream yawning to catch it’s breath. So hot were the dog days of Summer that it would be reduced to a trickle. I’d roll up my pant legs and slog through the rocky beds, clearing natural dams. It was gratifying to ease the agony of the dried up creek. What little water flowed was less impeded through my efforts. I spent many nights in our tiny cabin at the edge of the creek. The crickets chattering all at once, spreading the news of my stay.
As Summer eased into Fall, the stream’s current would pick up again. Beech and Black Walnut trees would begin pimping their yellowy wares with a sultry, “Follow me!” Silvery birches follow suit, punctuating the horizon like so many drumsticks. Sumac gives a nod, and flings it’s red wings, a gesture to the first frost. Burnt oranges lean into the harmony, and then, as if in a grand chorus, the Maples bellow out their fiery red feelings; nothing is ever left unsaid by the hardwoods of Northern Michigan in the Fall. Indian Paintbrush join in the chorus, flagrantly picketing in the open fields. Queen Anne’s Lace pull their white, crocheted sweaters
close at night signaling the start of the shush. The shorter days reduce the cacophony of color to a gentle hum, next a lullaby, and then a whisper, as the first snows fall. (See for yourself on Instagram with #PureMichiganScenicRoute!)
Deep Winter would find me flogging the snow banks at its edges of the creek, with my standard-issue Ski-Doo snowmobile boots. I’d watch the snow tumble into the freezing waters that trickled below. Sheer, glassy ice sheets remain as Winter’s secret; Springtime would be along soon! The first mud and ruts would be covered over with that thin ice just begging for a good, crunch! By afternoon all would melt beneath the sun’s gaze. As if starting at the top of the symphony’s score, a trickle of water would flow down in rivulets, halting at first, and then a rush. Water everywhere. It was Springtime again.
A gardenia bush blooms by the front door of the house. It’s fragrance evokes feelings of nostalgia. Without thinking I pluck a bloom whose leaves were bruised, and set it on my desk. To my delight, it’s fragrance filled the office, and I thought about something a family friend once told me.
Pauline had a gardenia bush that she kept in her home. In Northern Michigan a gardenia bush hasn’t a prayer outdoors with the weather-ly elements. But year after year, that small bush bloomed in it’s sunny corner of the room. It was Pauline who told me that a gardenia’s most poignant aroma comes from a bloom whose leaves were slightly bruised.
I cannot help but ponder the metaphor about life I’d just stumbled on. When looking at the white perfection of a bloom it seems impossible that bruising would have a purpose or function. Can it be true that the deepest and richest aspects of our lives are borne out of pain and loss? So often we put off grief and keep pain at arm’s length. Our walls stay high so we stay dry. Indeed. I’ve never been so dry, and crackly uncreative as those seasons when my walls were up. Arms flailing and inappropriate, silent gestures to the world at large … my pain. My world. “How dare you rock my boat?” These are words I’ve whispered in the direction of those who have hurt me. The petals of a gardenia are not bruised intentionally. But when it happens a deeper, even more priceless beauty is evoked: aroma.
So often we are desperate to retain that gracious, white perfection in our lives that we refuse to live. We refuse to try lest we make a mistake, lest we be the ones delivering the bruise to another. In order to really live we must learn to allow ourselves to make mistakes.
I live life with a focus on the numerous gifts and goodness that have come my way, but I must admit I have experienced a lot of losses. I identify with Lewis’ train of thought. When so many loved ones have come and gone; so many failures outweigh so few victories. Then there are questions of whether or not the victories are the right victories? After a while it seems simplest to just stay out of it. Stay out of harm’s way. No more bruising. No more mistakes.
And then the priceless realization. Did you know that the oil from a person’s fingertip can cause a gardenia’s petals to bruise? Or the delicate visit of a hummingbird, a falling leaf, a raindrop? And so it is with our hearts. At times there is a truth that we needed to face, a season of maturing, or a chance to become less victimized. It’s a design for life. The elements that we genuinely need to grow and become will find us, no matter how careful we are, no matter how much we surround ourselves with ‘safe people’.
Our task is to receive the moment like the morning dew. Let God do His work in our hearts. We press past the yawning grief and fear, and we become the beauty that the season intends.