Last summer, when an unexpected event devastated my life, I woke suddenly into a world, much of which had little or nothing to do with me. Things to handle, sort through, get rid of. I knew I had to reduce chaos and clutter to a quiet level and make the world I would continue in simple, peaceful.
A friend from the other end of the country began a series of calls wanting to come spend time with me, asking how she could help me, offering to help in whatever ways I needed. We have known each other all our lives, and her voice and words bolstered me. I knew just the kind of help I needed from her, a kind she was just the right sort of person, maybe the best person, to give me. I also knew that timing is everything, and that I had to be prepared emotionally and otherwise for that type of help. Finally, she forced the issue, stating that her calendar would be too full if she didn’t come during the time least busy for her – which meant soon. I accepted gratefully, but nervously. But she reassured me that she would come and take over and handle all the overwhelming details. And I felt taken care of.
And so she arrived, with a round-trip ticket that could not be altered: the timing was fixed. And what began as the flight’s effect of jetlag and scratchy throat soon turned into full blown illness. My friend was sick, sleep all night and most of the day sick, medicine sick. I accepted early on that she was not there to take care of me, after all: I was supposed to take care of her. So I did. Nothing on my to-do list could be done. We visited when we could, remembered old days and nearly forgotten people. She could eat, so I cooked. She asked for a hair trimming, and I trimmed. And all the while, I reminded myself continuously of Rumi’s words:
“Quit acting like a wolf, and feel the shepherd’s love filling you.”
I don’t know what fate brought my friend here to get so sick that, despite the best intentions, she could not stay awake long enough to help me the way she wanted to. I just know that this was the gift I was given: I got the chance to stop wishing, expecting, taking; I got the chance to act for a little while like a shepherd. I know that I was blessed.
Thinking about this experience, the image of sunflowers kept coming to me. They survive even untended, faces turned to the sun, absorbing the light and available rain. The art corner of my brain searched for a painting to join my words, and I thought of Van Gogh. But his sunflowers are such a fanfare. And then I remembered Mrs. Delany and her paper mosaic art. She has a single sunflower that stands alone and dutiful as a flag, looking just-plucked, asking nothing, sharing itself, readying seeds that feed the birds and prepare for next year’s crop.