I’m facing the two great facts of middle age: first, that I really am going to die and there’s a good chance I’ll get old first, which I find I am not remotely up for. And second, that there’s no “The One” out there who is going to make it okay. It’s kind of shaken me up, to the point where some days I’d just as soon get a gun and blow my brains out.
To absorb it all is not a quick, one-time thing. As a Catholic, I think often of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating tears of blood the night before he died. Christ’s anguished loneliness put him in solidarity with the anguish of every human being: the crackhead on the corner, the man in Africa who is dying of AIDS, me. And in one of the hardest “hours” of my life, what I’m discovering is that if I can stick with—consciously bear—the loneliness and emptiness, I begin to see in a whole new way that I’m not quite as alone as I think.
The other day, for example, I went out onto my balcony of my apartment in L.A. and sat quietly, looking at my plants. I sat for awhile and then I moved everything out of the way and hauled down a big aloe that’s always been too heavy to stand up straight. I’m not much of a gardener. It was listing to the side, dry as a bone, but as I set it down I noticed that, sprouting from that worn-out soil, were two fresh green baby agaves. I can’t describe the delight I felt at the sight of those tender green leaves. The next day I spotted a tiny purple bloom: the first sign of life from a bamboo orchid cutting I’d planted months ago and hadn’t dared hope would root. The day after that I went out there again and looked, really looked, at a fresh shoot of kangaroo paw: the flower a rich yellow, the color Van Gogh associated with the Resurrection; the stem veiled with dark red.
I believe that Jesus sweat tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane so that red could exist. He went to the cross for a new agave, so that spring could follow winter, so that out of the anguished human heart could rise compassion and praise. I believe he died out of love: not because he holds anything against us, but because there’s so little that we’re—or I should say I’m—for. Without help, I’m not for hope. I’m not for the present moment and whatever it brings. Mostly I’m not for putting my own needs aside and thinking of someone else. In the middle of the city, he’s given me my own little garden, to remind me to sit with him for awhile in his. To stay awake through the suffering is everything. To love till it hurts. To see what happens next.
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