The garden is flourishing in these endless cycles of wet and heat. It has exploded brilliant blooms of irises and poppies which were short lived in the relentless downpours of May. And now, in the muggy days of June, the peonies are surging out in giant fireworks of white and pink.
I’ve always hated peonies, and these in particular for having been planted in the most awkward of places on what passes for lawn. It took me a decade to uproot every last bulb only to find them skulking back into the interstices of my favoured flora.
Now, 20 years later, I’ve transformed my irritation into a marginal peace about them but, I claim, it’s only because they once belonged to Roger whose father built the farm in 1932. Roger is gone now, predeceased by his wife Blanche who had painted the living room the same shade of rose I did a generation later.
The poppies flank one side of a small garden (small being a relative term for something less than 8 by 30 feet) while the unrepentant peonies flank the other. This year they seem to be the punctuations of the Great Matter of Life and Death.
Perhaps my mother’s passing is resonating further with me as we divest ourselves of the material aspects of her life. Selling the house in Montreal, sorting through the final remnants of her collections, and falling over pictures and portraits of her journey in this realm, I find myself wondering what might have been different had on petal dropped this way or that, had one bud opened in June and not May, had one rose bush blossomed blue and not white.
Or perhaps I am feeling more and more the karma of aging as I trip and stumble over bumps and uneven ground in my path. Sitting on my zafu at the retreat Frank and I lead, I felt a piercing through my knee which the mind tackle to the ground and pummelled into an admission of stupidity for allowing it to happen. I marvelled at the logic that says, in retrospect, you should have known it would happen and prevented it. The talks at the retreat were on equanimity and compassion, the former being key to Dogen’s admonition that we examine the constructed selves and the latter to being illuminated by the myriad things as these masks drop to the ground. And through it all that mind-mask howled its misery and portended death of a broken kneecap – of independence, of living, of ever amounting to anything worthwhile.
The poppy stripped of petals and bloom is saying the same thing and the peony still in its naively held breath of birthing is saying the same thing. All things end, begin, end. But they don’t howl. Or clutch at the soreness. Or winch at the fire piercings. They seem animated by the truth of life and death, being and ongoing being. Voicelessly punctuating here and now.
Perhaps it is time I allowed these myriad things of the Great Matter to pierce me truly, really.