By Anne Millington
Last Saturday morning I decided to make a retreat to one of my favorite spots: a pond circled by a lovely wooded trail, with a small group of log cabins. The cabins are very simple, and in recent times I have taken to renting one for days of retreat.
The burdens of the pandemic had certainly left me longing for a day to myself, my spirit heavy from the mounting challenges and griefs borne by hospital patients, families and staff. What sadness I had witnessed and shared. What sadness I had experienced in my own family and community. What fear we all had for our lives. Of course, the cabins are now closed to visitors, but on this morning, I had decided to journey to the pond. “It’s better than nothing,” I told myself. I find myself saying that a lot these days.
As I walked around the pond, I suddenly glimpsed a big planting of daffodils joyously, even outrageously in bloom. How gorgeous they were! What an antidote to the doom and gloom in my soul! Blooming in silence way off the path to the closed campsite, few could see them, few could enjoy them. I quickly picked a bouquet. How lovely they would look on my dining table! Pandemic or not, it was spring after all! What joy and hope in life and newness these flowers would bring! However, a strong, cold breeze kept blowing them up against my jacket, bruising their stems and fraying their blossoms. I did my best to shield them and protect them. I had to believe that the glory of these daffodils could somehow prevail over the darkness in my heart.
As I approached my favorite cabin, I smiled as I saw it was just the same as always. I knew I could not actually enter it, but I basked in its comforting presence as I shifted from one foot to another in order to stay warm in the brisk early spring air. And then I looked down at my daffodils. Sadly, the wind had ravaged them. The gorgeous flowers were now drooping, bruised and tousled beyond repair.
I felt a hot surge of failure. I knew I couldn’t control the pandemic in all its terrors and griefs. I knew I couldn’t warm up in my cabin. But the flowers? I couldn’t even save them? Why had I bothered to pick them? They had given their lives in vain! My own powerlessness and ineptitude overwhelmed me. Shivering a final cabin-side shiver, I laid my daffodils down on the stairs, like putting flowers on a gravestone.
Walking back toward the parking lot, I noticed the cold breeze playing across the surface of the pond, bringing the water alive with ripples of morning light. Indeed, the whole pond seemed to glimmer and shine, almost like liquid silver. As I gazed through my own liquid silver tears at this sight that somehow shimmered with the Divine, I took a deep breath and let go, once again, of those daffodils — and with them, my strivings to control the future, my expectations for myself and for others, my assumptions about life itself.
In that moment I knew that such a God of grace and beauty is a God who will somehow sustain peace and love through all the storms of the coronavirus pandemic. I thanked God that I still had eyes that could perceive God’s beauty. I thanked God that my little cabin was still there. Most of all, though, I thanked God for the daffodils that had brought me a bit of salvation.
Anne Millington, BCC, is a chaplain at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Milton, MA.