Wednesday, August 22, 2007

On Seasons and Home

Annette Bening and Warren Beatty were flying their lear jet somewhere and, perhaps on a lark, decided to touch down for an unscheduled visit to Annette's original family home. The celebrity couple crash landed into the new owner's evening and were received warmly. The couple walked through halls of memories that brought tears to the eyes of the middle-aged actress. This story made a small, short-lived headline some years ago.

The headline coincided with my own trip to Colorado Springs where I spent a couple impactful years as a child. The move away from Colorado to Virginia was one of life's major traumas for me. In many ways, I remained for years in a state of arrested development, missing everything from the mountains to the wildflowers to my first-ever crush. Nothing in Virginia, I thought, could ever compare to the towering white-capped Rocky Mountains... the thrill of finding the first lavender anemone of Spring... the linen-fresh smell of mountain air... and sweet, childish memories of Todd Taylor. Misty reflections from time past.

With Annette Benning and idyllic dreamscapes in my mind, my heart raced and my hands shook as I knocked on the door of my childhood home in Colorado Springs... some thirty years removed from the time I once lived there. Oh, please be home, I hoped! A few seconds passed and a woman opened the front door but allowed a screen to stand between us.

"Yes," she snapped, impatiently.

"I'm sorry to bother you without any notice," I began, "but my Dad built this house a long time ago. I spent years here as a child. I'm living in Texas now and just visiting. I wondered if it would be OK if I took some pictures of the outside of the house... and the garden area."

The woman, who appeared to be about my age, looked me up and down, obviously trying to assess whether or not I was telling the truth or trying to scam her, then grudgingly allowed, "Whatever." Then she slammed the wooden door shut.

This was not how it played out for Annette and Warren, that's for sure. Annette left with the peace that her sanctum of childhood was no doubt still bathed in warmth. I was left standing on the doorstep of the place I'd yeared to be for 30 years feeling as if someone had just stomped on and junked my first green-and-gold diary.

I stepped out on the driveway and with tears in my eyes saw, for the first time, perhaps, what the house really looked like, now that the halo of good vibes had burned away. The redwood wrap-around deck had been replaced by wood that had grayed and was now rotting in spots. The trees were wild and overgrown. It was a scene of abandon and neglect.

I cut across the lawn to the side of the house where my father had built a magnificent garden out of hand-picked rocks. He had used variant ground cover and small flowering plants as a kind of mortar between the rocks and it had been his pride and joy. The wall was now a mass of weeds all but obscuring the rocks.

"This is so sad," I cried to Todd as we drove off, leaving a bundle of my most precious memories in a pile of rubble on someone's chilly doorstep.

The book of Ecclesiastes tells us this: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. (Ecc 3:1)

Where there were once interesting rocks and thriving plants, today my father's garden in Colorado Springs is overrun with weeds. There is none of the vibrance and beauty that once caused people who passed to stop and admire the creative adaptation of nature.

We spent a few days with my 82-year-old parents in Virginia recently. My Dad had taken his love of nature from Colorado to Virginia where he built a new garden of rocks and plants which he has lovingly tended all these years. My heart occupied a prominent spot in my throat when I saw that now this garden, too, is covered in weeds. Not because of a lack of caring, certainly. But at 82 years of age, Dad simply can't do what he did as a younger man.

I was struck as I stared at my father's garden in Virginia by this sense that there can be different reasons for the same outcome. A young homeowner in Colorado and a garden in decay. An elderly homeowner in Virginia and a garden in decay. Purely speculative on my part, but perhaps one garden lacks caring or commitment and the other lacks ability. But both decline.

I got down on my knees in Virginia and ripped out every weed I encountered. I was determined that those rocks my Dad had found and placed on that bank as a younger man would not be hidden and obscured. Those rocks meant something to him. And at that moment, I'm about certain that they meant even more to me.

I had a melancholy around all of this, it's true. But I found amazing comfort and God's peace in the knowledge that all of our seasons, even winter, are milestones along the path to something greater. That our transitions are part of the grand design. From Spring to Summer and Fall to Winter... the seasons of a life fully lived mark the path heading home.

Check It Out: Next time you visit D.C., stop by the National Gallery of Art and view Thomas Cole's "Voyages of Life" paintings on permanent display there. It's a beautiful and spiritual depiction of the journey of life.

On my iPod... Thing of Beauty by Hothouse Flowers (again!)


Todd Robison said...


What a reflective read!

I'll bet God often looks at us and weeps, just the way you wept when you saw how your father's creation had been neglected.

The woman in your old house had very little appreciation for the price that had been paid years before to make that house a memorable home on earth.

Likewise, there are times that we all have so little appreciation for the ultimate price that was paid over 2000 years ago to offer us a weedless eternal home!

Thank God that the weeds of life will one day be left behind!

Sarah Onderdonk said...

Hi, Todd!

So good to hear from you. Yes, thanks to God for what will be!

I had an interesting post script to the CO event, actually. I think I'd had an overly romanticized view for many years about the old home. That visit, though sad and profoundly disappointing, did rip the blinders off and free me to fully experience the beauty of other places. That has truly been a blessing.

Hey, I hope you have a GREAT school year... hi to the family!