“This I Believe: We Are Made for Work, We Are Made for Beauty”
Grandma Joan, my mother’s mother, taught me everything I would need to know to survive this world. She taught me that work is the greatest gift in life, and she instructed me to work towards beauty. No matter how dark the storm or cold the winter, these lessons hold true for me. Regardless of the tragedies in life, when I am working towards beauty, I can endure it. Grandma Joan taught me these lessons with her actions, not her words. She taught me using her flower garden.
Grandma had the most lavish and expansive flower garden I have ever seen in a private residence. Added all together, the numerous flower beds would have been a half acre or more of the land she and Grandpa owned. Alone, she managed an endless number of flowering bushes, perennials, annuals, and herbs. The profusion of things that bloom was, honestly, eccentric in its excess. But it could be no other way. She grew flowers to alleviate her emotional pain. Since she had a lot of pain, she had to grow a lot of flowers.
Death and suffering were constant partners to my grandmother. She lost her mother when she was a toddler, her father when she was twenty, and her brothers when she was in early mid-life. Also, she lost two children. Her only son died a couple days after birth. Her oldest daughter Peggy died of cancer when she was in her forties, when Grandma was seventy. In her grief, Grandma told me when my aunt died that no mother should ever lose a child. It was a pain that could not be described. After each loss, Grandma returned to the outdoors, in the fresh air, where she could kneel as if in prayer and dig in the dirt.
Grandma could barely be bothered to leave the flowers beds, when the weather was warm and fair. She found so much pleasure in the vibrant red dahlias, the precious pink honeysuckle, and the royal purple rhododendrons. In her palm she would carry the head of a rose, and would sniff the transcendental aroma of its soft petals. She felt blessed in her garden, and she was. Away from grief and disappointment, with the sun on her head, she was creating a beautiful earth.
Whenever I am confronted with what seems like an unbearable burden, I remember Grandma in her garden. Then I sit at my easel and paint. Not much of a green-thumb, I had to find art to realize her lessons about work and beauty. Fortunately, painting works for me as well as gardening did for Grandma. Like her, I have been able to find great joy and pleasure in this world, despite personal tragedies and strife. And so this I believe: we are made for work, we are made for beauty.
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