It has been a summer of work–building a framed structure with bird netting to protect the berries, laying a stone walkway, planting, cleaning, sweeping, hanging doors, moping, waxing, cutting glass for cabinets, hanging lights, organizing workers to lay tile, build a stone wall, make cabinets and more. Through it all, my husband and I have watched the grape vines at the entrance to our gate grow foot by foot, first reaching to the top of the trellis, then growing one by one down the crossbars overhead, the vibrant green leaves a symbol of the beauty and fullness of our lives here under the rich blue skies and the perfumed air of the Santa Cruz mountains. Then, last night my husband got up to get a middle of the night snack when he noticed the leaves were missing on the grape vines. He came to tell me, and I, too, got up and went outside to examine the damage. The vines were, indeed, bare. The deer, perhaps the very same beautiful deer I wrote about a couple of postings ago who mysteriously stared at us at us for so long from the edge of the forest, had indiscriminately eaten what we had watered every morning, and that had brought so much joy to our hearts.
“It’s deermagedon,” my husband explained this morning, as we further perused the damage, discovering the deer had eaten the strawberry plants, and the kale as well. “We work without rest, and then what we work so hard for is gone over night. It makes me wonder what we are doing,” he said. I thought about those who lost their loved ones in the tsunamis in Sri Lanka and in Japan, the Chinese girls who died in the recent plane crash at the San Francisco airport. We’ve all lost things precious to us, but to lose a family member in such a way would be truly tragic. Most of our losses in life aren’t as enormous or as difficult as what happens when a natural disaster strikes or a terrible accident, but still the losses must be confronted, and perhaps the way we deal with smaller losses gives us practice for how we will deal with me difficult losses when the arrive. We’re all bound to face serious losses in our lives when we lose the ones we love to death, and all will die one day. To protect our garden we had built an eight foot deer fence, not exactly the walled garden of Luso, Portugal, filled with exotic trees and hermitages, but peaceful, and precious to us, though we don’t yet have a latch on the gate. Sadly, the deer discovered our vulnerability and boldly ate our plants.
So what did we do after “deermagedon”–how did we deal with the loss? After an hour of sleeplessness, and a bit of rest, we woke and assessed the damage in the daylight, and noted that the vine stems were still present. Also, not all the leaves had been eaten. The ones that were too high for the deer to reach, and the ones the deer had to bend to low to eat still remained. The vine wouldn’t die. The base of the strawberry plants were still there, along with some of the strawberries, and about a third of the leaves. The kale was pretty much done for, but at least we had had the opportunity to eat some of the kale the previous night. We watered the plants and sent them some words of encouragement, told the story to a few friends and family members. Then, we got back to work, though we still took notice of the plants through the day.
Does loss cause us to change direction in what we are doing? That probably depends on the severity of the loss, and though we were upset by what the deer had done and how something we treasure was lost, we knew we could recover. Rick Hanson suggests in his blog post, “Drop the Case” that when someone has wronged you, a good thing to do is get a wider perspective on the situation so that you can “drop your case” rather than letting it get its hooks in to you. The deer was just being a deer. We can make it less inviting for it to come in our yard once we get a latch made.
Loss can also be a matter of perspective. When you think about it, we’re losing something all the time as our lives change and morph. When we leave one city, one state, or one country for another, we lose things–the people we know from that locale are left behind, as are the geographic uniquenesses of that particular location–the plants, animals, landmarks, the food specialties from the area. The history of the place we move to is different. If we are choosing to move from the area, losing these things has a different feeling than if we are forced to leave, however. If our choosing to leave something, someone or some place behind, helps us to deal with loss more constructively, then perhaps a key to dealing with loss is to change our perspective.
Years ago, I read Henri Nouwen’s book, With Open Hands, where he talked about how you can’t receive anything new until you let go of what you are holding on to so tightly. “You hold fast to what is familiar, even if you aren’t proud of it. You find yourself saying: “That’s just how it is with me. I would like it to be different, but it can’t be now. That’s just the way it is and this is the way I’ll have to leave it.” Once you talk like that, you’ve already given up believing that your life might be otherwise. You’ve already let the hope for a new life float by. Since you wouldn’t dare to put a question mark after a bit of your own experience with all its attachments, you have wrapped yourself up in the destiny of facts. You feel it is safer to cling to a sorry past than to trust in a new future. So you fill your hands with small, clammy coins which you don’t want to surrender.” (beliefnet) Nouwen clearly describes the consequence of trying to hold on to what we have lost or are afraid of losing–we end up with something small and clammy, when we could be opening ourselves to a new adventure, an new way of being that is reaching out to us, ready to embrace us.
Carrie Newcomer’s lovely song, “Leaves Don’t Drop” shares a wonderful insight about trees. “Leaves don’t drop, they just let go,” Newcomer sings, illustrating an interesting paradox that in letting go–in dying, we make space for something new to grow. “To die and live is life’s refrain,” describes Newcomer. In death is life. This is an ancient truth that many religions describe. Jewish scriptures in Ecclesiastes tell us that “For everything there is a season, a time to be born and a time to die.” Christians trust the paradox found in Jesus’s death: through it life is found.” In Chinese belief, the yin yang symbol teaches us that in life is the seed of death, and in death the seed of life. They are interrelated and part of each other.
Losing the leaves off the plants in the yard was disheartening, but in the bigger picture, not so bad. I’m made aware, again, that I share my space here with deer, birds, insects, and gophers. Getting along with everyone’s needs is challenging, and yes, I could even say an adventure.