The day my mother told me she was getting her second divorce was one of my happiest childhood memories. I was a few weeks shy of turning nine years old, and I was delirious with joy!
“Girls,” she began, “I have something to tell you.” I burst into the biggest and most prescient smile I had ever known. As she continued with “Andy and I are getting a divorce,” I fell over into the back seat tickled silly while my sister began her typical and uncontrollable sobs.
I remember the timing well because my step-father moved out abruptly. I remember no longer smelling scotch in the house, and I remember my mother putting me on the phone with him on my birthday.
“What’d he say?” she asked me.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “I’ll never see him again.”
I was no fool.
What followed were attempts on my mother’s part to make up for this change in countless ways. Within a week, we had a puppy. And something which I will never forget: she brought me to deliver meals to Jewish elderly people who were shut-ins.
Thus began a ritual for us and I learned their names, but they also had nicknames. Sylvia, was the “plant lady.” She was a Holocaust survivor and the only surviving member of her family who had survived the Holocaust. Her apartment was FILLED with beautiful tall plants, each one named for every member of her family who had been killed during the war.
As a young child I was never frightened by her, I simply loved her. And I was amazed by the life she had poured into every plant of hers. But even then, I knew that “the plant lady” didn’t just live with plants. Something was different in her home. As an adult, I understand Sylvia better. She was pouring the love she lost AND the life she lost into those plants and those plants were her lifelines. She spoke to them. She gave to them. And they gave to her. They FILLED her life which had been filled with the loss of life.
I will never forget the year we went to deliver her meal and learned that Sylvia had died.
I didn’t do very well with that news. My mother was very unskilled in that moment and didn’t know how to honor the moment and I I knew I needed to do something to honor her. My heart was broken for Sylvia and for her whole family. Every year, Sylvia shared more and more about each of them (through her plants). She told me their names. She told me stories of their short-lived lives. I knew it was an honor and a privilege every time she offered a morsel of each of their souls. And as my mother would wait in the car for me, Sylvia always managed to break my heart open by opening her own.
Flash forward thirty-five years later to “today.” Today I am reminded of Sylvia as I begin to pack up my photos. I have to move out of my condo for two weeks due to some flooding which occurred in my condo as the result of Hurricane Irene. Many people object when I take pictures, but as I began packing up my photo frames today, I realized, I’ve become much like the “plant lady” in my own way. I really have. These photos sustain me. Inspire me. Encourage me. They offer me love.
They say “no [one] is an island.” But often I feel that I am. Just as Sylvia must have felt.
I am a child of Survivors. The subject was simply “off limits” no matter how much I pushed. No matter how gently or lovingly I pushed. My photos, her plants, have filled my home with stories and with love.
In taking them down I know my teachers are still with me. My friends still love me. And that I am not an island. My heart still beats. My heart still loves as fully as ever. I don’t need photos to tell me so (even though I always bring some with me whenever I travel just to make wherever I go feel more like “home”)! I wasn’t a fool at eight, I’m no fool now!
But one thing’s for sure: it’s good to know what’s alive in my heart. And ever since I was that little girl who visited Sylvia, what was alive then is just as alive now.
LOVE and DEVOTION. And a whole lot of perseverance.
I guess I’ve always been a Yogin, huh?
Dear Sylvia, May your memory always be for BLESSING!