All week long, I looked forward to Friday—not only because working at home is frustrating and isolating, but because I had earmarked that day for my annual voyage to buy plants.
Shopping for annuals was a yearly rite of passage for Mom and me. Each year, she was steadfastly predictable in her purchases. She had a few favorites and never deviated. As for me, I would try planting random flowers that I hadn’t seen before—usually failing miserably to get them to thrive. This past Friday I had my post-it list of pots and the flowers they needed. I didn’t name a flower for the front porch urn but when I got to the Lowe’s Garden Shop, I instinctively knew to buy a red geranium.
Driving home, talking to the red geranium riding shotgun (yes, I have started talking to inanimate objects), I began to wonder why I never vary my front porch flower. I realized it must be due to a subconscious childhood association: for as long as I can remember, my parents’ front porch had red geraniums in the urns.
Flower shopping was a sweet spot in my week, and during this time of crisis and isolation, we have to celebrate the little things that lift our spirits, that feel normal. I was struck this week, however, of life’s more important sweet spots that COVID-19 has subjugated:
A dear friend’s father died this past week. He was a great guy—with a ready smile and chuckle that said you always had a friend in him. We got our first golden retriever, Jack Nicklaus, from him. Nicklaus was terribly mischievous—eating his way through three different tricycle seats as well as gutters and garden hoses—but was as sweet and good- natured as the master who had bred him. It is heartbreaking to me that the celebration of his life won’t be able to happen until this pandemic is over. I remember my parents’ visitations and funerals, and the people who came and the reunions with extended families were sweet spots during dark days. How difficult it must be to mourn privately.
Another friend has a graduating senior who was scheduled to attend two different proms this season. Not a fan of shopping, I remember countless trips to the prom dress section—perched on a stool in a tight dressing room while taffeta and crinoline descended on me: “Hang, please, mom!” I recall crowding with the other parents as our group of seniors posed on a sprawling front porch. It was a rite of passage, and as we watched the giddy teens, coiffed and cologned, gather on a warm spring evening, it seemed all was right with the world. Weeks later when they processed to Pomp and Circumstance, we parents couldn’t help but feel that, no matter what issues or problems our child’s teen years had held, the future was marching by us—and that our world would be in good hands.
My brother David is retiring from a school that he has loved and shepherded for almost a quarter of a century. There can be no reception now; rather the sweet spots in moving into retirement must come through cards and phone calls.
We need graduations and proms and retirement parties and funerals to remind us that we are part of a circle of life in which joy and sorrow co-exist and make us human. But in a COVID world, we are finding that we are having to navigate the poignant and painful passages of life without the sweet spots that forever engrain them on our hearts. I can’t help but believe that once the quarantine is lifted, once we have a new normalcy, the celebrations, the gatherings, will be even sweeter.
Ed Catmull, the former president of Pixar, spoke of the “sweet spot between the known and the unknown where originality happens; the key is to be able to linger there without panicking.”
That’s what we’re doing now: lingering in the unknown. Let us not panic. May we find innovative ways to lift each other up, taking solace in the red geraniums that whisper “home.”