The Rose

I’m one of those offbeat people who think a Christmas card isn’t complete unless you stuff a heartfelt letter or perhaps a comical poem inside. It’s been my modus operandi most of my adult life. I know it probably annoys the heck out of some of my friends and family who have a hard time deciding whether to round-file it or read it on the off chance that it might come up in conversation, but a tradition once begun is hard to abandon. A few years ago I actually did take a break. This year I’m back at it. Here’s why … and, not surprisingly, here’s the letter.

“My heart to yours. Your heart to mine. Love is a light that shines from heart to heart.” (John Denver)

The long road to this year’s Christmas letter began last spring when a fellow writer said we ought to be journaling during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic for posterity’s sake. Who better than a couple of regular gals with a gift for words to tell it like it is/was for the masses? I agreed but never followed through. The words just wouldn’t come. Now suddenly – after all the laugh-out-loud jokes about how slowly time has passed – we are actually nearing the end of this cruel year. And I finally know what I want to say.

Looking back, I fared pretty well when the crisis first made home the safest place to be. As a retiree, it was all about stocking up on food and household essentials, hunkering down with the person I love the most, and immersing myself in cherished projects. Then spring came, and the dependable beauty of my rose garden kept me going through the summer. Never have I been more grateful for every promising bud and breathtaking blossom.

Too soon, though, the garden went dormant. Every day since, I’ve felt myself sinking. The surging pandemic, the merry-go-round of hateful politics and gut-wrenching division, the extended isolation from family and friends, and a handful of non-Covid deaths and health misfortunes in my personal circle collectively beat me down into near hopelessness. Even the encouraging announcement of vaccines didn’t seem to lift me up.

But just the other day, something finally pried open the corner of my heart where despair was growing. Like little wisps of smoke from a flickering candle, the hopelessness began to escape.

What was responsible? Why, it was a rose! A rose in freezing weather. A rose as big as my hand with petal upon petal spilling into a perfect sphere. A rose so fragrant that if you close your eyes, you would swear you were out in the garden in springtime. A rose specially preserved to last for months. I never even knew this was a possibility, let alone expected to possess one.

And who was responsible? Why, the dearest friend a person could ever hope to have. I’m not sure she imagined how much the rose would mean to me, although I have no doubt she went out of her way to get it. That’s her nature – endlessly kind, unapologetically generous, spreading love as if it was fairy dust, a true angel on Earth.

Which brings me to the real point of this story. It wasn’t the rose that climbed into my heart to ease my despair. It was my friend.

I so needed this gentle reminder. A kind heart — mine to yours, yours to mine — has always been the way to survive troubled times. I forgot for a while, but I’m more of a believer now than ever.

Believe with me, won’t you? There’s never been a better time to shine our lights and watch hope bloom.

Yours Never More Truly, Laurie Samsel Olson

For Opal

Winter is generally viewed as the rose garden’s season of rest and, therefore, the gardener’s.

This may be true for roses. The physiology of their purposeful hibernation reminds me of the grizzly and the groundhog. But it is not entirely true for the gardener.

In the high desert, where precipitation isn’t dependable, we keep a watchful eye on the weather. If it hasn’t rained or snowed measurably for a couple of weeks, we’re outside with the hose and watering can. If the wind scatters the mulch we so carefully spread in the fall, we’re likely to throw on a jacket and rummage around in the shed for a rake.

The roses don’t ask for this help. But they need it just as surely as they need pruning and fertilizer in other seasons. The key for the gardener is to pay attention.

The same is true for friendships.

It’s easy to respond when someone reaches out for a helping hand or a strong shoulder. How many of us have gladly sat with a friend during the grueling hours of chemotherapy, provided care for children or pets, cooked a meal, run an errand, or joined in a prayer chain at church or on social media?

But what about those friends who don’t reach out?

This month I lost a friend who I didn’t even realize was gravely ill. Oh, I knew she’d been diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago. But the last time we talked about it, she was in remission.

Her occasional posts on social media in recent weeks didn’t hint that anything was amiss — an eagle atop a flagpole, an old photo of her and her husband on their anniversary, family memories. Not a word about her health. And I didn’t ask.

Then came the news she had passed away. On her 66th birthday.

My sadness was magnified by my unintentional neglect. In this day and age, there’s no excuse for silence even when hundreds of miles separate you. A text is as easy to send, a call as easy to make, when you don’t know someone needs you as it is when you do.

This is my apology to Opal for not paying attention, for not sending that text. It’s also my heartfelt thanks to her for living a life that reminded me and all who knew her that it is good to be cheerful and kind, calm and wise, and that hope and laughter are always in season.

Opal, your long winter is over. It’s always springtime in Heaven. See you there one day, dear friend.