A month ago, catching up with old friends, I chose "deepening" to describe my experience of the past year. Deepening, I said without thinking too much. I meant vaguely that I'd been affected in a profound way by the challenges of work, the challenges of community, the challenges of relationships, and most of all the experience of finally--for the first time in my sheltered, blessed life--tasting the sorrow of death.
Sometimes I feel silly bringing up again and again Grandma's death. It is not unique. Almost everyone age 12 and up has experienced the death of a grandparent; many a death of a friend or even parent. But Grandma's death, like her life, has affected me deeply. I still am trying to understand why, how, and how long. With grieving, what is too much and what is not enough? What is love and what is wallowing? I know that I was zapped of energy the first 3 months. I felt sad that people didn't understand that. I know that I am more scared of losing people, more aware of mortality, hold my family more precious. I'm playing the piano again sometimes. I've added two items to the queue of jobs to consider: "nursing assistant in a nursing home" and "hospital chaplain." I hope I also have a deeper understanding of loss and more compassion for those who are experiencing it. I think that's what I mean by deepening.
The plants in my garden this spring are waiting for something. The basil, peppers, and tomato plants haven't grown any taller than when I planted them. But I just learned their roots are probably very active right now. Deepening. Healthy root growth happens under two conditions--the soil has to be warm and loose enough, but also the roots grow most when the shoots aren't growing--early spring, late fall. You might plant a tree one summer and it spends a whole year seemingly dormant. It doesn't grow much until the following summer, but the roots have been deepening all along, preparing the way.
Like our lives. There are times, I am learning, where we don't grow above ground. I feel like I'm still in the same place I was 3 years ago. Still pattering around trying to make up my mind about "vocation" and "work." Still waiting for things to settle with my community, my city, to feel like I belong in a place long-term. Still making the same mistakes, the same sins, even moving backwards in some cases, or so it feels.
But surely I am deepening--learning to garden, learning to pray, learning to accept the loss of a leaf here and there, learning to mourn. Surely these roots will soon drink some living water and bring forth a mangled, misshapen, worm-eaten, delicious tomato.