Wednesday, May 10, 2006

On the Wings of Love

The story began sometime during the second decade of the 1900's. Eddie and Elizabeth Clarkson sent letters to one another across several states and two continents. After five years or so, he drove from Charlotte to Texas to propose to her. Following their wedding and honeymoon, they came to Charlotte to a house on Ridgewood Road. The solitary tree that stood in the backyard was soon surrounded by hundreds of others as their love and their garden grew far and wide, deep and long in the stately Myers Park neighborhood of my fair city.

More than 75 years later, their homestead is currently known as Wing Haven. Acres of lush garden are hidden behind a brick wall, and only the well-informed even know it exists. Soon after our arrival in Charlotte three years ago, a well-informed friend of mine told me that the children and I should visit; she was certain we would all enjoy it thoroughly. She was right; we did.

This morning, the children and I returned to the garden. We walked its narrow, winding paths, gazing up into the gnarled branches at birds and squirrels that surely wondered what we were doing in their haven. We watched spiders and chipmunks wend their way through webs and underbrush. Gardeners trimmed dead leaves, fed growing plants, and wondered what we were doing in their haven. I took photographs of flora, fauna, and two frolicking children. Water dripped in bird baths. Fountains flowed into stone bowls of all sizes and shapes. Poetry, song, and prose appeared on stone beneath our feet, nailed to trees, and hung on fenceposts. Roses bloomed. Koi swam. Bird poop fell around us in showers. Mosquitoes made mincemeat of my exposed calves. It was an adventuresome hour.

Over the years of their marriage, Edwin and Elizabeth never had children. They had their garden. They planted, tended, and extended. Instead of purchasing birthday, Christmas, or anniversary gifts for each other, they bought plants, flowering bushes, and bricks with which they constructed the paths that bisect the garden and lead all wanderers into, through, and around wondrous nooks and corners where plants, insects, and birds alike all thrive. If I remember the details of the introductory film correctly, they bought enough bricks over the years to build many homes far larger than the one in which they lived.

Brick by brick, they built a legacy that has outlasted them by decades.
Brick by brick, they built a sanctuary, a haven in the heart of Charlotte for creatures that could not have done so for themselves.
Brick by brick, they laid the foundation for generations of Charlotteans to learn to appreciate the wonder of nature, the beauty of the great outdoors, and the quietness that is possible even in the midst of a thriving, growing community.

Of course, all of that made me wonder about the legacy I am building for future generations of Henderson-Belsito children, the foundation I am laying within the hearts and minds of the two that are currently in my care, and the peaceful sanctuary that I hope our home provides for all of us. Do we live and thrive within the brick walls of this home with as much confidence, with as great a sense of protection, and with as serene a spirit as those animals did earlier today?

All through the garden there are warning signs, advising all passersby to walk carefully as the bricks underfoot can be slippery. Not only were they slippery in places, but also they were noticeably uneven. It was obvious that in some places the roots of trees had proven irrepressible; they were pushing up from the teeming earth beneath, and the bricks could not withstand the pressure.

Do I have the same kind of depth, strength, and determination to live, to break through the barriers that life erects as those tree roots? There are times when I feel a certain sense of condemnation from those who would prefer for me to sit quietly in church and not raise an "Amen" when the words or music touch a responsive chord in me. There are times when my husband shushes me at sporting events when I yell out in support of my children's efforts, in protest against a referee's inaction or an opponents' inept action, or simply because I feel like shouting. Some people think I talk and laugh too loudly. Others think I dress too loudly and wear too many accessories. Sorry, folks; this life was meant to live fully, loudly, joyously, raucously, in full dazzling color, and I will not be silenced.

As we neared the end of the path through Wing Haven today, we came upon a group of raspberry bushes (or were they blackberry? This city girl is hopelessly ignorant of bush and flower facts). There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of berries strewn across the path beneath our feet. We tried to imagine the glee of the birds, ants, bees, and other critters that are able to enjoy those luscious fruits without impediment all spring. No competition from the human consumers. They can eat freely of those sweets whenever they choose. Yeah for them!

My greatest concern at the moment, of course, was that we would get the berry juice on the bottoms of our shoes and track it into the car and eventually into our house; I guess I never forget who I am as mother and housekeeper! Later on, however, as I thought back to that red and black juicy section of the trail, I wondered about what juicy messes I'm leaving behind in my life.

Perhaps all my loud laughter, the dozens of filled journals that line the shelves of my study room, the classes and lessons I've taught over the years, and the blogs I have written in the past eighteen months will leave stains of joy, traces of good memories, and even the occasional stinging nettles of challenging questions all over the lives of the many people who cross my life's path.

As we drove towards Wing Haven this morning, Daniel made it clear that this little field trip was not to his liking. He made it seem like he'd rather be at home doing some dry and boring writing assignment than wandering through the wooded pathways of a quiet city gardenscape. Not even two dozen paces into the garden, his objections, his voice, and his spirit quieted. Sure, he wanted to pick one of nearly every flower we happened upon. He wanted to plunge his hand into every fountain. He wanted to climb over every chain that separated the public pathways from the private ones. By the end, he wanted to eat those berries, feed the birds, and catch a fish in the small pond. Mean mother that I am, I had to say "no" to nearly every one of those requests.

He's so much like his mother. Often I enter life's mazes under compulsion, with reservations, and resisting all efforts to convince me that there is something beautiful awaiting my discovery. It never takes long, however, before I long to touch, smell, and taste nearly everything within arm's reach.

I hope that someday soon, we will both get to the place where we open our minds and hearts more readily to appreciate life's bountiful gardens, even though we will most assuredly be stung by bees, bitten by mosquitoes, and tripped up by mislaid bricks. Sometimes we will have to muddle through life bruised, bleeding, and stained.

I hope that we will never choose to avoid the pitched and perilous path, but that we will get up when we fall, brush ourselves off, and press on. After all, the rose garden is undoubtedly just around the next corner.

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