When I was eight, I remember laying flowers on my Grandfather’s grave—my mother’s father—for Christmas—a somber family ritual. My grandmother stood next to me and said: “You never know when God will call you home to tend to his garden.” And she pointed upward towards the sky and raised her eyebrows the way she often did after she felt she had imparted major wisdom. And in that moment, at eight years old, the image of a garden far larger than anyone could imagine flew into my mind. Colorful flowers of all shapes and sizes surrounded by bees and butterflies and maybe even lady bugs. Sunny skies and everyone you loved wearing straw hats collecting aprons full of vegetables and baskets stuffed with wildflowers. Maybe there is even a breeze playing in your hair. Someone is handing out lemonade, and in the distance more family striking up a fiddle or a guitar or a flute.
And this is all you did all day. Collect a bounty that will never cease and laugh with your ancestors under the clearest sky until it was dusk. Only then would you set down your labor and go towards the candle lit clearing full of music and link hands with family that you had never met, or never known, or only heard whispers of. Only names, only a moment’s brushing of grass from a grave stone. But here they are—and how much you would laugh together with these people whose blood is your blood! And how much you would dance without the awkward feeling that you wouldn’t belong! And oh, the songs you would sing! Church songs and work songs and songs about love and journeys.
And there, walking towards you—see there—more family. And from another distance more people, except these are all the friends you have ever loved and all of the animals too. And they join in with you, in this great colorful swirl of music and laughter, the smell of the garden close by and the bonfire built by your brother who is drinking cider with your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-uncle who is telling stories to your great-great-great-great-great-grand-daughter who also happens to be petting your first dog. A cacophony of perfection, timeless and limitless is it’s joy.
And as each person comes into the dance—-space is made. And as the night grows darker—another candle is lit. Another lantern. Another bonfire. And another and another until the whole place is glowing. And continues to glow until the dawn when you start up your labor again collecting the most wonderful flowers, swapping stories, never tired somehow. Everyone would be there, moving in and out without the fear of ever losing them again.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot and wishing that there was a way to create it without going to the other side. And then I think of how good things happen when we live in the present. I shouldn’t think of what will be, I should enjoy the beauty of now—the bittersweet feeling that it is all fleeting.
But I also think of how excited everyone will be to see me when I get to The Garden. How everyone will turn towards me and smile all at one time. How they illuminate the space around them with their gladness. How arms that have longed to hold me will hug me again, how I will dance without hesitation and I’ll laugh and sing without running out of breath. I can hold my grandmother and all the the people who have gone before me and wait happily for those who will join me after.
I still virtually light candles for my Grandmother every night. I light them whenever I can in real life too. I know that somewhere she is laughing, maybe walking arm and arm with my Grandfather for the first time in twenty-three years and sees the smallest spark streak across the sky above her, a shooting star for her as I light a candle down here, and she smiles because she knows it is me somehow.
Somehow even the virtual candles are shining where she is. And she smiles because she was right about The Garden all along, knowing in some way that I still remember her telling me about it so long ago. And she smiles because she knows that we will be together again. And then she will take off, running as fast as she can towards the crowd of laughter and dance for joy in the illuminated evening. She knows I’m coming home, and it’s only a matter of time.