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Dispatch from the garden: On this path, no turning back

Monday, December 21, 2009; B03

You need no introduction to this piece, for you have lived some part of it well enough to feel its moment.

He doesn't pause. He doesn't look back. He leaves me aching for the times when he was little and he would stop, turn his head and look over his small shoulder to see if I was still there watching out for him. Now, an adult, he just goes.

Through the cloud that has fallen to earth here in my garden, I watch my only child pass through the garden gate. This is no casual jaunt. He's leaving my tender care, my home, my garden to walk alone out into the world.

My heart fractures. My head knows that it is time. I want to share his joy at his independence, but he's leaving my household, and that's all I can get my heart around.

Emotions swirl and collide as I give him my blessing. "Have a vibrant life; live fiercely," I call out into the void behind him. Have I armed him with all he'll need out there in the great beyond? Was my wisdom too little, too archaic, too much or too often?

My eyes mist, and I return to coaxing a vine off the old oak tree that soars 50 feet reaching for the sky. It's work freeing the vine's tendrils that have stapled themselves into the tree's bark. Unattended, these vines would squeeze this massive oak to despair in their attempt to suffocate.

I hope I knew when to attach, hover and protect and when to peel back and not impose on my son's space. I tear great lengths of the strong, choking vine from the tree. Yards of leafy streamers wave in the air, then collapse in a wilted heap on the ground. Suddenly, I am aware of many separations -- temporary and permanent -- coming toward me. They resonate, the crow's caw harshly interrupting the wren's sweet song. I have stepped up a branch on our family tree and replaced my parents at the top. In an uncertain time, my son will replace me on that topmost branch.

What I don't foresee: My son will return and bring me abundant joys. My garden will prosper, keeping memories alive. He'll bring a girl home for me to meet. I'll plant the corner shaded by the massive oak tree in hostas with paddle-shaped leaves that send up sturdy stalks of waxy white trumpet blooms.

He'll give this special girl a diamond ring. I'll plant white and pink crepe myrtles and purple and crimson chrysanthemums for their fall engagement party. One year later, on a hot summer day, he and his fiancee will marry.

Three years later, they'll present me with my first grandchild. I'll plant a weeping cherry tree in her honor to replace that huge oak that was squeezed to despair then death by the tenacious vine. I'll thread blooming plants like shiny satin ribbons of purple, orange and pink for this granddaughter's spring christening celebration in my garden.

Just one year after that, I'll plant a white hydrangea, anticipating the birth of a second granddaughter the following fall. I'll repeat the joyous cycle of threading vibrant ribbons of blooming color for another christening celebration.

If I loosen the ties, if I endure the heart-crackling moments of separations to come, if I have faith that I have planted well the experiences, joys and traditions in my garden of life, and if I am quiet, if I am patient, joy will triumph over all separation sorrows.

When age trumps life and another cloud falls to earth, I'll silently pass through my garden gate. My son will watch me go. When age has shaped my spine like a question mark, I won't be able to turn my head to give my son a final parting glance over my curved shoulder. With a splintering tug, I will try to give him my final assurance that he and his three treasured women will thrive. My earthly journey ended, I'll leave behind my joys, catalogued in flowers, for those I have loved well. My spirit will glide out the gate, leaving a floral fragrance. My garden will prosper, keeping memories alive.

-- DiAna Hart Smith

McLean

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