In the Shape of a Heart

There must be always remaining in every life, some place for the singing of angels, some place for that which in itself is breathless and beautiful.”  ~ Howard Thurman  

If I chose one earthly thing that I’ve delighted in my entire life it would be window boxes filled with flowers. I hope they exist wherever I’m going next. Maybe there is a “flower dimension” in the afterlife. If there is, my father will be there.

Every spring, like magic, I would come home from school on a sunny day and find all our window boxes planted with pink and red geraniums. My winter-naked bedroom window was fully accessorized from May to October. He broke the rules, my father. Planting red and pink flowers together was a definite Cosmo “don’t” in the gardening world. In all other ways, my father played by the rules, yet when it came to flowers, all bets were off. He turned a blind eye to the norm. No one put pink and red together. But my father did. Unapologetically so. A small act of rebellion in a war he could not win.

My father lived a life that held only brief glimpses of happiness, a life that didn’t unfold in the way he’d hoped, despite his continuous efforts to appease. He had a gift of seeing life in an uncomplicated way ~ there was a great blessing in his way of being. He appreciated the little things in life and found happiness in the beauty of the natural world around him. The grace of an ordinary day was not lost on him.

It was not about seeing the glass half empty or half full. For my father, It was enough to believe there was a glass at all. When you come from a hard love home it’s tricky to know where to find the good things you’ve taken away that have shaped you as an adult. Sure, you’re a survivor having made it through the trauma, but what else? It’s easy to stay in the story of how hard it was and to list all the “bad” things that happened. To wear the armor of protection around our hearts forever. Grace and freedom come in discovering gifts that were also part of what was handed down.

They come in the shape of a heart.

When my father planted his window boxes it wasn’t an act of rebellion. The complete opposite in fact; it was one of the only times I saw him smile, not a “lips together slight turning up at the corners”, no, a full on teeth showing smile. Flowers were his heart’s delight, his passion, a touchstone of joy. No one else had a say or played any part in the planting…from flower choice to soil to tending to the care of these beautiful plants through the summer. They were all his in a world where very little else was.

He made the world more beautiful. In the simple act of planting flowers he made my life brighter and the neighborhood and those that lived there a little happier. He took pleasure in the neighbors slowing their hurried steps to look at the flowers and in the compliments that followed; the hours spent fertilizing, watering and fussing over tender new shoots, delighting in every leaf and bud. He took comfort there and made a difference in the world around him.

All from his heart.

From doing something that was his own, that meant something to him, that he did because he couldn’t not do it. I can imagine it as his way of trying to find something to feel good about, to take a bit of pleasure in being alive and affirm his faith in something greater. He did it for himself. He did it to save himself. And it was a blessing and gift to others in a meaningful way.

I’ve stared at my deck for most of the summer with a few fits and starts at trying to make it feel better. The air conditioning unit under the window and typical tight urban deck dimensions left me uninspired. I bought a rug for under the table and chairs and it was too small ~ it’s still too small. I didn’t return it. I planted a couple pots of flowers only to have them struggle in the hot sun. I did my best to let it go ~ saying I’ll try again next year.

Then last week happened.

I’d noticed the occasional window box on other apartment deck railings and thought about doing the same, but with no follow-through until finally putting it in the “next summer” mental file. But something kept niggling at me last week and I couldn’t shake the idea, even though it’s the end of summer and my mind swirling with the rational ~ what would I plant and it doesn’t make any sense to do window boxes in September…all the leaves are turning, everything would rot in the rain, and, and, and….these thoughts followed me all the way to the store where I bought half-price window boxes designed for deck railings. They still needed to be customized to fit, but my ready and willing other half was quick to step in and do his magic creating the sturdiest, most secure window boxes imaginable. All without bungee cords or duct tape, which would have been my go-to remedies.

Boxes in place, we hauled home potting soil and plants that I hope will survive for at least a couple months. I spent the morning planting, feeling my fingers in the dirt, tapping, scooping and tucking the winter pansies, oregano and coral bells into their new home. Smudges of dirt on my cheeks and dirt under my fingernails I felt alive and happier than I have in a long time. Like, beside myself happy. I can’t take my eyes off these flowers. I can’t get enough of how I feel when I see them. I check on them first thing in the morning and watch them as the sun sets. I need them. I needed my father, too. And the truth is, there wasn’t much room for either of us to take root in each other.

Once the boxes were finished, I couldn’t stop, didn’t want to stop, so we potted more plants outside our entryway and re-potted a lavender tree. Neighbors who we haven’t heard boo from in the nine months we’ve been here have asked where we purchased the window boxes and others have bought large pots of chrysanthemums, ornamental kale, and dusty miller. Autumn wreaths and corn stalks grace doors and porches. All since the window boxes happened on our deck. It’s been a bit of magic and it happened from my heart, from a place my father gave me.  

Today I feel like my father’s daughter. A place for the singing of angels.

Photo by Roman Kraft

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