This is a good month for roses in my neighbourhood. On our walks, we seem to be continually surprised by the masses of heavy velvet heads framing doorways and gateways, and the lush greenery reaching high against brick walls. The breeze shifts and the fragrance reaches us, sweet, almost nostalgic but fresh and alive, too, and the buzz of bees is thick in the air. I don’t know if the roses are better this year, or if it only feels that way, but everywhere we look, they bloom delightfully.
Even our own small potted rose, which sits beside the kitchen door, surprises us, lifting its apricot petals into the sunlight. I’d love to plant a real rambling rose that would tower properly, but this small one grows in a pot because we live in a rented house and when we move, we want it to move with us.
And the real beauties grow next door.
Stella’s roses would win prizes. Fat, pink blossoms like cotton candy, like bubble gum – that pink, that joyful. There are three, four, five heads clustered together on each stem, and more buds on the way, a great parade of rosy gorgeousness, and each bloom ruffled and perfect.
I wish she was here to see them this year.
Stella died last summer after living in the house for over 70 years. When we moved in, Stella had recently lost her husband and was trying to get used to living alone, but she said she wasn’t lonely, just learning new patterns. She was always ready to chat over the garden wall, asking me about my children and telling me about her garden. One of her daughters had designed the garden with a circular brick patio and lush beds filled with abundant flowers to make the small space feel expansive and full. She said it was a good place to remember all the blessings God was giving her, and I loved how she used the present tense in that deep affirmation.
Her grown children visited regularly to help with things around the house and prune and weed in the garden. My children knocked on her door to bring over baking or ask for her help with school history projects. Stella saved them clippings from her newspaper that would interest them and gave them Christmas and birthday presents. Last spring, when her health began to deteriorate and health care workers came to check on her daily, she wrote a letter to our youngest, explaining to him what was happening to her and how she was being looked after, so that in the midst of school closures and all the worries of the COVID lockdown, he wouldn’t be confused or worried about her. She was kind to us in so many ways – another blessing God was giving – and that’s what her garden still is.
Despite being untended for much of a year, her roses are extravagant.
Which is only fitting because love continues. Love matters. Our nurturing, our responsiveness, our unseen tending matters. Like prodigal roses in an empty garden, love keeps blooming beyond all our efforts. How and why is part of the divine mystery, I am sure, but even when I don’t fully understand, I know love continues. The world can feel too full of fear and grief, but still love grows, attending, expanding, putting down deep roots in our lives and in our neighbours’ lives, too, so that what we love can blossom into beauty and continue after we have gone.
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