I get only what’s on the list. Gingerale and saltines to settle her stomach, a family sized box of cheerios and a gallon of milk so the kids can make their own breakfast if I’m tied up taking care of my mom. I toss a bunch of easy to make lunch stuff into the cart, things the kids can manage in a pinch. I grab some fruit and almond butter. We just have to make it until dinner.
Our church fills in slots on the calendar to drop off casseroles and soups, crusty bread baked fresh in their ovens and wrapped up still warm. They drop off pizzas and salads and homemade cheesecake. The kids count out and divide the chocolate chip cookies, but the biggest ones end up in their stack. These church women go the extra little bit to make sure there’s something gluten-free for our daughter with celiac disease. Every evening they bring grace to our doorstep in crockpots and aluminum covered foil trays.
We break the bread and I make a plate for my mom; I carry it to her and this is how we heal the body.
We let the body heal us. This is grace. This is communion.
I wheel the cart through to the pharmacy line and when the man calls me up, I give him my mom’s birthday and last name. He types it into his computer and then returns with a handful of orange bottles. He reads off names of painkillers, and names of anti-nausea meds to keep those painkillers down and then he calls for a consult. A white-coated pharmacist picks up each bottle and stares down his nose though his reading glasses.
“She’ll want to take these with some food in her stomach. And she should try to drink a lot of fluids. She shouldn’t drive or make any big decisions; she’ll probably be pretty woozy.”
No chance of that, I think. She broke her back. She won’t be driving for a long time.
I nod dutifully, and he places each of them in a white paper bag and folds the edge over before handing them to me.
I’m not sure how I’ll get fluids into her when she can’t sit upright or roll over without crying out in pain. I wonder how I’ll get her to the bedside commode if she does get all the fluids she needs.
And at the same time, I’m thankful that she hurts because that means she feels. And it could have been so much worse. This is grace. This is mercy.
I wheel the cart towards the checkout and I pass the cellophane wrapped hydrangeas, lavender, and blush water-colored petals like popcorn spilling out. I pass the Gerbera daisies looking playful and exuberant in fuchsia and goldenrod, scarlet and tangerine.
The stocks are drooping a bit, but their scent reminds me of barefoot summers in my mom’s garden. I can taste the cherry tomatoes and the burst of juice when I’d pick them from the vine. I think of my children like drunk little men, weaving through the bean vines popping their pods between their fingers and shooting peas into their mouths.
I begin to tear up when I think of the compost bin that fell on her and crushed her back. I think of the soil, as rich and black as coffee, and the smudge of dirt across her palm that was still there when the ER doctor finally gave her some pain relief and her balled fist unclenched and her face went watery and soft. She looked like a small broken girl on that gurney, dwarfed by the clunky black brace and the oversized hospital gown.
She won’t be able to tend to her garden this year. She won’t be able to bend towards the ground and get her hands dirty. She won’t be able to see why the False Indigo’s leaves are spotty and ragged or stake the dahlias with strands of cut up pantyhose so their giant plate-sized faces don’t crack their stems like a broken spine.
Who will strengthen my mom’s spine when the flowers don’t bloom for her? When I will inevitably kill her houseplants with my zealous watering or absentminded inattention.
Who will tend her garden while I tend to her?
My mom taught me that flowers can be a tonic for a weary or sick soul. It’s a remedy for the undersightedness we’re all prone to, our vast inability to see the small grace invading our urgency to produce and thereby be made worthy. Our inability to see miracles in the mundane. To remember when we were girls and blew dandelion fluff with heaving puffs that carried wishes like we were blowing out candles on our birthday cake. And the seeds were beautiful instead of a weedy nuisance. This is grace. This is noticing.
Flowers demand nothing but to be lovely and adored.
They’ve already done the hard work of being crushed from seed, planted in the deep dark broken earth, split open, and poured out. They’ve sent out roots and weathered the sun and rain and storms, and if they’re then cut and arranged by some magical apothecary, or plucked by the curious hands of a child, or bought in the crinkly plastic dressing at a gift shop, they do their work just by being splendid. This is grace. This is beauty.
I look for peonies in the bunches of market flowers. The flower I love. The flower that’s spoken to me of God’s gentle care when it waited to bud until I was home from the hospital. When it unfurled like the tulle of a ballerina’s skirt. When it promised there would always be beauty too, it’s slender neck bending over the lip of my bedside vase. And I had the hubris to believe that God might have made the peony just for me, just for that moment, just so I would be reminded that we often see what we look for, even when we’re in pain.
There are no peonies today.
I drive home with the groceries but no flowers. I pull into our driveway and as I’m unloading groceries from the car, I see the first flash of yellow. The daffodils and lilies bloomed while I was busy with necessary things. They bow and wave in the spring breeze, and I pull out my phone and snap a picture for my mom. I carry it to her.
We have much to learn from flowers. They don’t toil or spin and how God cares for them.
Sometimes when we’re looking for miracles, what we’re missing is a thousand tiny seeds, carried on the wind like weeds. This is grace.