This morning I cut the Montbretia stalks, the ones that grew from the bulbs I took from your garden when you died a year and a half ago. As soon as I brought them home, I planted them in the narrow strip of soil on the edge of our patio. They grew well against the white-washed wall, delighting me with their resilient, determined leaves and bold red-orange flowers.
They remind me of you. There are many qualities that I admired in you but the one I’m struck by as I cut the Montbretia was your determination to listen to your body and do whatever it needed. I know that’s not how you saw it. You told me in no uncertain terms that you had no choice. If you tried to over-ride the signals, if you tried to achieve and do, you’d be bed-ridden for days, woozy-headed, drained of all energy, shaking with pain, visits with friends cancelled.
On your better days, when your body allowed, I’d be given a slot of an hour, the timer set as soon as I’d settled down in the armchair facing your nest on the sofa. I loved those visits. They were times of mutual sharing. We helped each other make sense of our place in the synagogue, both of us intoxicated by the sparks of the Divine that we found amongst the toxic identity politics of the community. Your counsel grounded me during the traumatic family crisis I was going through and I know you appreciated my listening to you as you struggled to be true to yourself. Do you remember that time you burst into tears and said I’d made you cry? I felt terrible and gave myself an inner slap. I know I can be a bit heavy handed with the advice. But you saw it as a gift I’d given you – the permission to feel whatever feelings come up. We talked often about accepting all of ourselves, shadow and despair as well as joy and hope.
The Montbretia have been dead for many months. Today I take a last, long look at the slender, brown leaves, riddled with holes that droop around the firm, green central stalk. Rising above the stalks are the flower stems, brown empty seed heads, alternately arranged. Most are leaning over resting against the ground. A few are standing upright. They are achingly beautiful and I cry, missing you.
As I cut the stalks, a wild profusion of fresh, green shoots a few centimetres tall is revealed. I wonder if it’s the wrong time of year for new shoots to be appearing. But they’re here and they’re beautiful.
I cry, missing you and feeling grateful for our friendship.