A young man and his grandmother walked through the gardening section of a supply hardware store and had a conversation about vulnerability. The grandmother was old but she wasn’t gone yet. She knew she was close but she was very strong. She had always been. It wasn’t strange seeing them walk together. The grandmother spent many hours in her garden. She spent her life raising children and her children’s children. When there were no more kids to raise she found purpose in the soil and flowers in her backyard. The young man wasn’t necessarily interested in gardening. He enjoyed taking his grandmother on little outings as he knew they were limited. They always thought about the concept of death, but these thoughts were always hidden.
“These Lilies are beautiful.” said the grandmother as she picked one up to smell.
“Whenever I see the roses in your garden they inspire me and give me compassion, stick with those grandma.” said the young man.
“Roses are beautiful.” She said “But they can hurt you if you get too close.”
“Kind of like me, right grandma?” joked the young man.
“I certainly miss when you didn’t have such a tough exterior.”
“Well, I am your grandson.”
They continued to walk among the colorful flowers.
“Do you remember your grandfather’s old property up north?” She asked.
“Of course I do.” he replied.
“A long time ago, you must have been five or six. You were visiting us and all of your cousins were there as well. You guys were all playing like you usually did. That winter a tree had fallen across the stream. In the summertime when the stream dried up the creek bed filled with thornbushes. You and your cousins took turns walking back and forth over the fallen tree. You slipped off the log and fell in the thorn bushes. Do you remember this?” asked the grandmother.
“No” The young man said. But he did remember. He had a vivid memory of this exact moment. But he didn’t want to feel vulnerable.
“After you fell in, I carried you back to the house. You were crying because there were cuts all over your arms and back. My heart wrenched as I tended to your wounds, but I told you to be strong and stop crying even though I just wanted to hug you and kiss your tear filled cheeks.”
“Why are you telling me this?” asked the young man.
“Because I love you very much and you will always be that little boy crying in my arms.” She said
“Maybe one day I’ll get to take care of you like you took care of me and I can see you vulnerable.”
“Being strong is both a blessing and a curse my son, it carries a burden that prohibits you from showing vulnerability.”
The young man laughed and said
The young man remembered the day that his grandmother was referring to. He remembered it going exactly the way she described, but to him it wasn’t about being vulnerable. To him the memory was a reminder of how much he loved her. It wasn’t implicitly apparent to him but that experience among others added a layer to his subconscious. It made him never want to show weakness or vulnerability. He wanted to be strong, like his grandmother. They walked to the car with a cart full of flowers and contentment.
“Grandma have you heard that ‘the earth laughs in flowers?’”
“My garden is not a joke.” She replied with a smirk.
They loaded the car and drove away. As he pulled out of the parking lot and accelerated down the boulevard he said,
“Could have fooled me grandma, I can’t help but smile when I’m in your garden.”
What he didn’t see was the pick up truck speeding through the yellow light behind him. The truck tried to swerve and avoid the car which contained the young man and his grandmother but it was too late. The truck slammed into the rear end of the vehicle which whipped their heads back and then forward into the steering wheel and dashboard.
The cardiac machine maintained a subtle tilde. The young man sat next to his grandmother’s hospital bed. He sat with his head down, listening to the beep of the cardiac monitor. Her face was peaceful but she was enveloped in jumbles of wires and cords. He looked up at her, grabbed her hand and began to speak.
“I lied grandma, I remember you carrying me to the house, I remember you telling me to be strong. I’ve tried to be that ever since. There is something else I remember grandma. It was a few days after grandpa died. You were sitting by yourself in the garden and you were sobbing. It was strange to me because during that time you were so rational and composed even though the love of your life had passed. I realized now that it was because you were being strong for us. In your time of great pain, your unselfish strength served as a monument for the rest of the family. I realize that life has patterns grandma. I recognize that it’s my turn to be strong for you and for the rest of the family.” He kissed her hand as the monitor continued, beep…beep…beep.