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Sunflowers, by Me.

It is the 4th of April. The sun has not yet risen and I am sitting in my backyard in a darkness lit only by the few stars in the sky and the tiny flame from the oil lamp stationed beside me. My mind wanders through the still, black air, back to Easter morning in the spring of 1974. I am 10 years old and sitting on the porch talking with my mother. “Is there really an Easter Bunny?” I ask, fidgeting with the shiny new toy he supposedly brought the night before. “What do you think?” she replies. I stop to consider my options and question further. “Does that also mean there’s no Santa?” “What do you think?” she says again.

Keen problem solving skills and an intuitive ability to read between the lines lead me to decide both the bunny and the fat guy are likely made up lies. To the daughter of a man who died 5 years earlier, this is just further proof that nothing is as it seems, that nobody sticks around, that nothing good lasts forever. To the stepdaughter of a man who preaches God’s word each Sunday, Jesus is just a reason for the local hypocrites to gather together and make me uncomfortable in His presence. And now, all of them — Jesus, Santa, and the damn Bunny — are just 3 more men removed from reality and relegated to the realms of myth. Faded pastel mints, brightly colored eggs, and juicy jelly beans can’t fool me into believing there is cause for celebration. That rabbit can hop around with his basket of fake grass and cheap candy all day long, but like Charlie Brown and his paper sack of rocks, I’m lugging around a big ol’ bag of resentment and disillusion that just grows heavier over time. From where I sit, Easter simply sucks.

In the flicker of the lamp, the silver screen of memories fast-forwards another 34 years. It is Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010. I wake early and take my dogs for their routine morning walk. In the quiet darkness we wander through my neighbor’s elaborate rock garden and are graced by the scent of roses, poppies, peppers, and oranges. The mists of the night still swirl thick and heavy in the Ojai air and the sun is just beginning to peak slightly over the majestic Topa Topa mountains in the distance. I am standing in front of a row of sunflowers perched high upon a hill when I hear a voice whisper softly through the wind: Expand or contract. It’s up to you. You can expand or contract. With no one else around to deny or confirm what I think I hear, I react to what I am told. I open my arms wide, stand straight and tall, and raise my face toward the heavens. Then I wrap my arms tightly around my body and curl my torso and head down into my knees and toward the ground. Three times I complete this strange ritual. It has been an odd weekend, full of ominous feelings and somber symbolism. I sense something bad is coming and it is as though the Universe wants me to know and is trying to prepare me for the fall. I stretch my arms out once more, vowing to be strong and unbreakable and clear-eyed, to walk through the fire of what is to come, though honestly, the message seems more than slightly surreal.

Later that day I am yet again walking my dogs through the beauty of the garden. It is dusk. The sun sets over the ocean and the reflection of its descent casts a luminous pink glow on the darkening Topas. I stop to watch, letting the image soak into my soul as the sun sinks below the horizon. Back home in Virginia, it is three hours later and the sunlight has long faded. There in the darkness sits a man, my high school sweetheart, a soul mate and still dear friend. He sits alone in his car behind an old and rustic country church. In the stillness of the night, he holds a small gun in the palm of his hand, its cold metal grip melding with the warmth of his skin. He brings it up to his beautiful head and pulls the trigger. His body is found 6 days later, a Bible on the seat beside him.

A light breeze blows gently through the trees and the sweet tinkling of wind chimes brings me back to now. I am standing toward the west, facing the waning moon, and the light of the sun is coming up behind me. My arms are outstretched, and large, silent tears stream from my eyes and down my cheeks, moistening hardened lips. I have carried the burden of resentment and fear and loss and anger for most of my 48 years, and my body aches with the added weight of the guilt and blame and responsibility for this thing that brought me to my knees. For three years I kept my promise and journeyed through the flames of anguish, and though joy and grief are intermingled, one contributing to the ecstasy of the other, I am exhausted and no longer able to endure the sway of emotion or the heaviness of the smoldering ash. Lifting my face towards the sky, I am once again overwhelmed with the passion of compassion, and I do what I have never done before. I surrender. I surrender to the light, and I feel peace. I surrender to the truth, and I accept. I surrender to the joy, and I embrace what is, today, this moment, in the here and now.