Seth Ethan Carey
"Thorns shall grow over its strongholds, nettles and thistles in its fortresses. It shall be the haunt of jackals…" - Isaiah 34:13
As the years crawled by, my grandmother and I grew further and further apart. We were both getting older, each in our own way; and I was so caught up in my own life that I didn't have much time for visiting with Nana anymore. I would drop by the nursing home from time to time, but our conversations were growing more awkward, more forced. We had more and more difficulty finding things to talk about. And in truth, I hated it there—it was a tangible reminder that the most treasured sanctuary of my childhood, my Nana's house, was gone forever. The smell of home-cooked delicacies that always wafted from her kitchen was gone, replaced with the sickly-sweet odor of disinfectants and cafeteria food. The vegetable garden that she'd toiled in so lovingly for so many years was gone, supplanted by a lonely cluster of plastic flowers on her windowsill. And it seemed as though something between us was gone, too, slowly drying up like a pile of leaves in November. For human beings, there's truly no harder land to till than the spaces between us.
And so, rather than spending another awkward hour by her bedside in the nursing home, we made plans to spend the day together outside. I drove her to Hubbard Park, a sprawling nature preserve of lakes and forests and hiking trails in Meriden, my hometown. Meriden is an ugly place, a burned-out factory town of dilapidated houses and boarded-up storefronts—but this park is a diamond in the rough. We slowly drove to the peak of the highest overlook, where the remains of an old stone watchtower loom over the whole park. I helped my grandmother up the rusting staircase to the top, and we looked down on the green earth below. Up there, the conversation was not awkward—we didn't need to talk at all, no more than we did when I was a toddler playing in her garden. This time that we were spending together—real quality time, as they say—was gently healing the rift, planting something in the space between us.
After we left the park, I took Nana to visit my grandfather's grave. And only a few months later, she was laid to rest there beside him. But on that day, while she yet lived, we buried something else beneath our feet. My grandmother and I planted a memory; a tree that blossoms evergreen.
May you cultivate the space between us, Lord, breathing life into that arid and forsaken wilderness, letting love bloom once more. Amen.
Seth Ethan Carey is the Executive Associate Minister at the First Congregational Church of Glen Ellyn, Glen Ellyn, Illinois.