Waves of Plumeria

This week marks the one year anniversary of the death of my friend Martha. It’s still so hard to believe that someone whose cup ranneth over with life is gone. The photos of her that have popped up on Facebook and our alumni magazine exude vitality and joy and hilarity that taunt death, in a way. But she’s still gone and we still grieve.

This Christmas my parents graced our whole family with a trip to Hawaii, which was wonderful and restorative, and the sprinkles of (let’s call it) family dynamics were few and far between.

On New Years Eve day, my sister-in-law, my nephew, my daughter and I went to a plumeria farm to pick flowers to make leis for the family as part of our New Years Eve festivities.
The kids loved it, and the flowers were beautiful, and our eco-hippie guide showed us his paintings (which we did not buy) and the coconut cups his son made ( which we did buy), and offered us poi and bananas. We made eight leis and went home. We rang in the new year in various time zones, and discovered that one can bear the weight and fragrance of a lei only so long before the sinuses clog up and the neck starts sweating.

New Year’s Day came and the leis began to wilt. We weren’t sure we could bring them back stateside but it seemed to me that to put them in the trash was a bit of a disservice. So I made a plan. Those who wanted would take the plumeria, freed from their strings, to the beach and toss them onto the waters, and remember those we lost.

In the end, only my husband and daughter joined me, mostly because they are good sports. My sister commented that I love ritual, but that comment was as close as she came to making it to the beach laden with flowers.

So in the surf we stood, my husband and daughter and I, and we began flinging flowers and shouting names over the roar of the waves.

Mike and Bud. Ann and Glen. Ruth and Owen. Beulah and Paul- the grandparents. Uncle George and Aunt Mimi and Uncle Jerry and Uncle Harry. Martha. My dear Martha. Gregg’s dear Carolyn. Marie and Dick, my friend’s parents, because if she had been there she would have been the first one on the beach. And the church people. “Mary!” My daughter shouted, and I added Hank. Janet and Wayne and Anne and John and Betsy and so many. It was great.

And then the plumeria all washed up on shore. Not the ritual I was going for.

You see, the flowers were supposed to go out to sea, in a Bobby Darrin sort of way – a reminder that our loves wait for us beyond the waves. But no. These loves washed up on the shore bedraggled and worse for the ritual.

Then I began to worry that in Hawaii it is illegal to throw anything into the pristine Pacific. “If anyone asks, we have no idea where these flowers came from,” I instructed my people.

I was disappointed, let down by my own petard. They looked so awful now, these pretty plumeria. Beat up, drowned. Dead.

But maybe that’s the point. Those who leave us are dead, and that is not pretty and they are not coming back. What’s left of them does sometimes wash up onto our lives, painful memories of the beauty or kindness or hilarity that are no more.

The next day I went down to the beach, and the flowers were gone, somewhere beyond the sea. Perhaps they have been gathered up, leis again, adorning our beloved a who are indeed waiting for us.

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A Different Valentine

no val“How glad the many millions of Timothy and Williams would be, to capture me;

But you showed such persistance, you wore down my resistance .  I fell, and it-

Blah blah blah.  Valentine’s Day is almost here, and once again, I confess I greet the day with a bit of indifference.  I’m really not much of a romantic, and if my beloved were to come home on the fourteenth with a dozen red roses and a heart-shaped box of chocolates, I would pretend to be delighted, but he knows me well enough to know that I would think it a waste of money to buy those things when they are marked up for a one day, over-commercialized holiday.

In fact, on the fourteenth, I will take my beloved to the airport in the morning so that he can fly eastward to attend the memorial service of a dear friend.  And that is way better than roses and chocolate.  I love roses and chocolate, but I love presence more.  There will probably be a card or two tucked into his backpack, maybe even some Moonstruck chocolate, but we won’t spend Valentine’s Day gazing with moon-eyes at each other over a bottle of wine.

When I was single, I hated Valentine’s Day.  There was no place for it in the life of this singleton.  All the commercials, the relentless aisles in the grocery store, the radio stations: they all conspired to remind me that I was a One on a day meant for Two.  Yes, my mom and a few friends would always send me a card, and I appreciated that.  But there was no way to escape the day.  I could go out with girlfriends, or stay at home with Ben and Jerry and Colin Firth, but it was a day whose end I always greeted with relief.

I’m married now, and that takes the pressure off although, truth be told, we usually haven’t done much on February 14.  But our child still loves Valentine’s Day, and she really, really wants us to celebrate as a family.  So I trot out the heart-shaped lights, and we make a heart-shaped pink cake to be eaten after a pink meal (steak for us, pink mac ‘n’ cheese for her, red peppers, strawberries, raspberries).  We spend arduous hours making Valentines for classmates, and for grandparents, and for single friends.  But I’m still ambivalent about the day, because I know there are a lot of Ones out there, and it’s a day advertised for Twos.

I wonder if there is a way to reclaim a bit of the holiness of the day.  It was (and still is) the feast day of St. Valentine, an early martyr.  Originally it was a day to commemorate the loving, selfless act of one person; might we recreate that sense some how? I have a friend who always donates blood on Valentine’s Day.  That’s loving and selfless.   Going to the memorial service of a dear friend is a loving act, and I am so glad my husband is doing that.  Surely there are other loving, selfless acts we might engage in that would honor the saint whose legend has spawned an unfortunate industry.

I’m tempted to buy all those heart-shaped boxes at the grocery store and hand them out to the guys sitting out in front of Peet’s, holding the cardboard signs.  I’m tempted to buy up roses and hand them out to the men and women working at the gas stations and grocery stores and the restaurants and the hospitals and the shelters and all those other places that don’t just close down.  I’m tempted to walk the halls of middle schools and tell all those poor, crushed souls that it gets better and everyone is a jerk in one way or another in junior high.

But I probably won’t.  Instead, I’ll take my husband to the airport, then I’ll help out at the party at school, then my child and I will do something special – get a pizza, and rent a movie, and call daddy and tell him we miss him and we love him.  I will call a couple of my single friends in an act of reclaiming that love is for Ones and Twos and Twelves and all of us.

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Keith Haring, Life of Christ Altarpiece