sewing buttons

Sometimes it’s the only thing a mother can do …in the silence that ensues after a heart is ripped open,  after the shockwaves of personal trauma subside,  and the door locks that would let you inside to hold the sobs that rack your child’s broken body (and they’re always and forever your child in your heart). Down the hall, you lie foolishly in your own bed, knowing rest won’t be yours tonight. You keep hearing the moans. Whether or not they’re still real, they echo within, the pain they released caught in the cavern of your heart for safekeeping. At least you can hold that for him.  Besides, drifting to sleep only brings with it nightmares, which awaken both you and your mate with the ferocity of the grief you absorbed.  

You feel. 

You want him to know that you’re there, but you need to honor his grief, give it space, stay out of its way.  ‘Nothing can fix this’ he’d screamed when you offered ‘I’m sorry’. ‘I love you’ are empty words to him now.  

So you search for the missing buttons …the ones flung across the room when he tore his shirt from his chest. 

What is it about this universal human reaction during periods of intense grief?  What is it that the body needs to express… a chest laid bare to reflect the heart likewise ripped open, the external tearing a symbol of internal fracture , a psychological release of pent-up anguish that explodes through and out of the body, some need to destroy when one feels destroyed?  

You find them.  One.  Two.  Three.  Scattered across the cold ceramic tile, across from where he’d lain hugging the pillow hard to his chest, staunching the flow, screaming his ‘no’s’.  You pick them up prayerfully. It’s all you can do-  all he will let you offer today, though you’ve gone to the market to stock the pantry just in case he decides to eat what you tender, feeling guilty that you hadn’t adequately stocked it the day before.

The buttons are small, navy, four cornered inside their roundness.  You don’t even know what that means;  there are no words for the work of your hands.  You know only that this is your work for today, to sew these three buttons back into place. To mend what you can.  To moisten the thread with your lips, with care tie the knots, fold neatly the garment , and lie it atop the chest by his door.  

His world torn asunder.  Three buttons, at least, back in place.

tulip poplar lessons

This spring, she bloomed for the first time. Ten years old, maybe 12 (I am unclear as to how many years had passed since she’d sprouted from seed, when I planted her slender 3 foot body in the soil next to my garden swing), something in me was overcome with both tenderness and longing at her menarche. High in her branches, hidden by broad-leafed foliage, that first blossom would’ve been easy to miss. I was grateful to have been there with her, to witness, to celebrate unabashedly, to honor her moment.

I noticed in me a strong impulse to protect, which came up alongside my desire to uplift, that felt less maternal than it did sororal, taking me back perhaps to my own tender pubescence.Perhaps something in me wished to have been acknowledged in such a tender and honorable way; my own once-upon-a-time blossoming had been covered over, then utterly tarnished, by shame.  Perhaps it was those broad leaves I’d lacked, surrounding me, allowing glimpses into the vibrant secret to only those who would honor the beauty. There is a profound difference between secrets clouded by shame and those enfolded, safeguarded as precious so as not to be dishonored.

But that was long ago, and this is today. Today, perhaps I am noticing a new kind of solidarity with her, a holding and beholding of that blossom, high and concealed. No prolific abundance of showy, eye-catching appeal for us, though that is quite wonderful when it occurs, we quiet, rooted ones stand bearing something more subtle, unnoticed by but a few who know where to look for the surprise.

I suppose there was a time, maybe even not so long ago, when that would not have been enough for me. Today, wiser perhaps, but always beginning again, I know the quiet contentment of that.

This week, from my perch overlooking the garden, in what is beginning to feel a bit like a nest in the branches of these fast-growing tulip trees, while reading some of the history of religion and philosophy, a thought arose quite distinct and clear. ‘So many blossoms, and I’d been allotted a glimpse of just one’. One blossom — though delicately edged, fully unfolded and fragrant, with revelry of pistil and stamen within — is so tiny a portion of beauty. It’s as if for a time family, culture, religion and science don a set of four-sided blinders to eyes that are consequently permitted a minute slice of reality. Perhaps that’s why all those scriptural images of blindness are there.

Uncertain as to why the emotion riding that thought appeared, it came over the rise with a tinge of anger riding that saddle of sadness. Perhaps it was the stark realization that I had looked nothing at all like the flower I was given to behold as beauty. My god! There are a dozen blossoms uttering the same beauty on this one tree!, and hundreds more in the garden that look nothing at all like this yellow and orange-streaked, cup-shaped petal—pinks and purples, rounded and pointed, deep- throated and widely outstretched. So many ways to be Beauty.

Yesterday was one of those days where the blue sky was strung with beads of pearly-white clouds. Noticing the ruffled edge of one particular cloud, I was reminded of the edge of an old-fashioned double dianthus blossom. One aloft in the sky, one held barely a foot off the ground by a stem that sways with the cloud’s passing. Both presences cause me to pause and to wonder………….


Often I feel grounded. Sometimes that grounding feels wholesome. You know, the- ‘here-and-now’-fully-present-in-and-in-love-with-this-place kind of groundedness.  Often that particular experience of grounding happens for me in the woods or the garden.  My racing mind is quieted, my anxiety forgotten, my all-is-well known. Nothing more is needed, and I need be nothing nor nowhere other than who I am here.

Other times my groundedness feelsmuch heavier, tethered somehow, unable to move,  pulled back by something outside of myself that keeps me from flying. Of course, I know, ” is there really anything outside of myself that has more power than my own wings, propelled by the strength of my breast, unless I give it permission to anchor me in place?” And many of those things to which I give that permission are very good things, things tied to my heart.

A blossom. A cloud.
Earth and air.
Fall and Spring.
Release and yearning.
Old and new.
Safety and change.
Both in me.
Living the tension each day.


I have been told that the feeling of resentment, which seems to bubble up in me lately to lash out at confused and unsuspecting loved-ones, is likely a symptom of the experience (or perception?) of loss of freedom. And, of course, I am free wherever I am – free to be me. It is always up to me to remember that, to bring one sense of groundedness to the other. That’s perhaps why the garden beckons and satisfies even when I long for the woods.

Is it possible to tether a cloud?


There’s water too in that cloud, in the blossom as well. Without it, the blossom would wither and brown, lie down on her side, return to earth. The cloud would cease to be.  I need to remember to give myself a drink, to bathe myself in blessing.

There’s fire- less evident – as well. It comes in the cloud in those flashes of light when it darkens; it’s stored in the blossom as food. It’s there in the simmering resentment, in the anger at the solely-placed reverence of the singular blossom – in the encroaching summer, which so often forces something in me into hiding.

Perhaps it’s time to stay out.

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