To Break Open a Cherry Seed
One of my favorite things in the world are cherry blossoms. So beautiful. They fill my heart with hope and happiness!
Now it so happens that cherry blossoms come in spring - and sometimes that long winter feels interminable. So much bitter cold and lack of light can make it hard to trust in spring coming back. After you lose, and you lose, and you lose again ... you become afraid to believe in love and happiness. But the problem here is any new bit of happiness becomes like a seed you keep wanting to dig up to see if it's growing. If you keep digging up a little plant to see if it has roots, what will happen to it?
This is sobering to me today, recognizing my heart to be in such a state of fear from so much loss that it has become a hostile environment for new love or friendship. I'm so afraid of being hurt that I want to dig up any new seeds to see what they are - do they have roots? What kind of plant is this? Is it safe? Can I trust? But the fragile state of new growth can't endure such scrutiny. It needs a little trust - trust that with the right conditions of light, sun, and soil, it may grow after all. Not every seed that falls will grow. There is no way to tell. But it might. The only sure way to tell if it will grow or not is to keep digging up the seed, thereby ensuring its destruction.
But there is one bit of hope for me still. Some seeds, like the seeds of cherry trees, actually need the winter. Their hard shell actually needs the bitter cold to crack and split open. Only then can the seed take root. Thinking about this lifts up my heart right now. What if all the loss and devastation I've endured that's brought me to such a fearful place was, in fact, necessary for whatever joy may be meant for me?
In one of the darkest times of my life when I was losing everything (at this time, my former husband was having an extended affair during my pregnancy, and I thought I would lose my very mind), I used centering prayer - kind of like a Catholic form of mindfulness meditation - to survive. I don't use the word "survive" lightly here. This prayer is mostly about quiet receptivity, while repeating one word or phrase. What I used to say to myself during this prayer varied: sometimes "accept," sometimes "love". But mostly just "Trust God," "Trust God," "Trust God."
The rest of that story will be told another time. But as it relates to this story, it turns out that losing that marriage was the start of a new life for me. Only after I was out of it, several years after the affair happened, did I come face to face with how unhappy I had been, even before the affair. Sometimes devastation comes before something better, like a forest fire clearing the way for new, healthier growth. But it can be very hard to trust anything new to grow when you've endured such a long winter. And I began to feel like myself again, albeit slowly. One tiny new seedling at a time, that barren field began to fill with grass again.
However, the affair, and the way it stole happiness from my early memories with my son, was only the beginning of a pattern of loss. Next came a period of numbness where I lost myself for several years. It was only the diagnosis of my father's terminal cancer that woke me out of this coma of unhappiness and gave me the courage to leave the marriage. And that was the beginning of the real bombs beginning to detonate, in which my entire life fell to pieces, one lost friend after another, health difficulties, a horrifyingly traumatic divorce, and my father's death. And there was also new love, which lasted for three years until that relationship too ended due to tragic circumstances and illness. When that relationship ended, I hit rock bottom. I simply couldn't bear any more loss. And so, for the past six months, I have been in hibernation. After losing so much, and feeling so vulnerable, it did not even seem possible to imagine having love and happiness again. The grief seemed to go on forever - interminable grayness and barren fields covered in snow. Any little rays of sunshine found in fun and friendship were like the frail bits of winter sun that didn't sustain any real promise of having a home and a family again. But I continued to slog through the mud and darkness, rebuilding my own home as best as I could. Bit by bit, those frail rays of sun got a bit stronger. And one day, I woke up to the possibility that spring really could return.
And here's where it gets tricky. You want for happiness to come back, so badly. The prospect of being out of the darkness, of having love again, of coming back to life, is so enticing, but it feels so dangerous - and the new hope only cements the feelings of grief and loss for that which you have let go. And this creates terror in the heart. No more loss! I must protect myself! And so comes the compulsion to dig up and examine any new seeds of life. Are they growing? Are they flowers, or nasty weeds? Then you realize that you have just dug up a plant that might have turned into something beautiful, and in so doing you have damaged the roots. The chances of it growing now are next to nil - and you know this happened because of your fear.
So today I decide to stop digging up any new seeds of happiness to see if they will grow. They may, or they may not. But trust is the only soil in which anything can flourish, and fear is a hostile environment in which love and happiness will most surely die.
One year after the devastation of the affair, I took my son to the botanical gardens to see the cherry trees. And they have been a symbol of hope for me ever since. The beauty of spring means that despite the odds and despite loss, we can have trust. Somehow, life continues; somehow, life returns. Loss in the past doesn't mean continued loss. It only means we are now afraid. It is important to cultivate trust again so that each new flower has a chance to come to life. Can I ever trust again enough to not ruin anything new?
But maybe I am a cherry seed. Maybe this cold and devastation have not ruined me. Maybe all the loss I've suffered has cracked this seed wide open - not for destruction - but for new life. Perhaps true love and happiness for me is yet to come.
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