The hellebore are blooming. They are blooming in the tiny tree-lined park at the top of the ridge where you can see the mountains and the islands and the glittering city skyline on a clear blue day.
My introduction to hellebore was a circuitous one. During college, one of my summer jobs was working at a hotel in a town near Seattle. It was supposed to usher me into the wonders of hotel-restaurant management, a field my dad was sure I would love. I did not love it. But the job did inspire me: the streams of businesspeople and baggage, the gaggle of women on the sales team, the drama among the housekeepers, and of course, there was the book.
The book I discovered in the library, a room tucked around a dark corner from the hotel lobby. Rarely used by guests, the library was quiet and cool. Sometimes during breaks I would sneak in and peruse the shelves. One day I unearthed a gorgeous book stuffed alongside the cracked paperbacks and immovable leather collections: a hardbound copy of Invitation to the Garden: A Literary and Photographic Celebration.
That summer, any spare moment I had I was reading it. I devoured Steinbeck, O. Henry, Homer. I never quite trusted wisteria after Colette’s tale of breaking and entering. I discovered La Granja fountains, Hawthorne’s Manse, a marigold from North Vietnam, Woolf’s men and women who walk Kew Gardens in July, the peony shoots of Vauvillers in 1919, and the tender strength of winter’s hellebore, the Christmas rose.
I loved that book. I memorized the title. I inquired at bookstores. I trolled out-of-prints online. At the end of the summer, I calculated how I could possibly take it with me when I went back to school. I doubted anyone would miss it, but I couldn’t figure out how to carry the big glossy tome through the lobby unnoticed. Plus it had an unsightly hotel sticker across the front cover. And stealing is wrong. It was the first book I purchased after college.
Years later, nothing seemed to be blooming on a walk with a friend to the tiny tree-lined park at the top of the ridge. A few knobby branches looked ready to burst, and birds hopped around our feet, but the air was frigid and the park was overrun with raw winter browns. Except for a few patches of pink flowers.
“Hellebore,” I said as we walked past. I paused. Pages turned somewhere in the back of my mind.
“Those? I don’t care for them, do you?” my companion asked. He kept walking. “Molly. Let’s go.”
I knelt to clear away some debris, and thought about how people, like gardens, are in a constant state of beginning. And yet the past is ever present as well. If we take the time to see it, we are surrounded by such wonder.
Later that evening, I pulled Invitation to the Garden from my own stuffed shelves and opened to a page at the back of the volume.
“Yes, I do care for them,” I said. “In fact, I like them very much.”
This Christmas, may you have the courage to understand and be understood. And above all may you see the wonder that surrounds you in even the bleakest of seasons.
We are the healers, and this is our time. We are the leaders, and we go first. Stay open, stay soft. Love well.
Growing up, most of us learn to withhold a bit of information, often to protect ourselves or someone we love, often for good reasons. But we also learn pretty quickly that hiding something doesn’t make it go away; it just slips out of view and becomes a thing we have to carry by ourselves. It feels safer to be secretive than to be insecure or afraid. Over time though, managing all that stuff turns us inward, drawing attention over and over to the very places in ourselves we’d rather not focus. And in that hall of mirrors, secrets have a way of growing powerful: demanding emotional energy, requiring better hiding places, threatening to expose themselves, and reflecting only the distorted parts of our character. It’s lonely, as Frank Warren shows at PostSecret.
Here’s the thing about secrets: they want to be told. Some are like mountain rivers, rushing down hills, exploding through dams, and crushing everything in their way. Some are like old meandering streams, quietly rolling along well-worn paths. But like all water in its natural state, all secrets move in the same direction. Secrets want to be known. Fundamentally this is because people want to be known.
And that’s the uncomfortable truth about subduing secrets: you have to make yourself known. It’s the most natural thing and the most terrifying thing, and it requires a kind of vulnerability that isn’t celebrated much. I have been in seasons myself where I’ve chosen patterns of dishonesty and secretiveness. What got me through were a few safe friends who sat with me and listened. Day after day after day. And then some. They reminded me who I really was. Face to face with that kind of fierce love, over time, the fear melted away and what I was hiding didn’t seem as heavy. And it wasn’t — because I wasn’t carrying it by myself anymore.
You are dearly, dearly loved. Take a running leap and be known.
“When you find your little dream costs you everything, I hope your broken bluebird heart still sings.”
In the United States, Halloween is still celebrated a little differently in each part of the country. It evolved from a tradition the Irish and Scots brought with them called mischief night, where people would sneak around late on Halloween unhinging gates, tipping outhouses, and causing other renegade mayhem. The next day, pranksters would claim it was the work of ghosts. By the early 1930s, the destruction inspired by mischief night was becoming a problem, and local civic organizations tried to create a safer holiday. One idea: children were encouraged to go door-to-door to get a treat from each house or place of business. Owners participated, despite the lean depression years, because they were afraid there would be mischievous repercussions if they didn’t. You know, trick or treat. Kids didn’t dress up in costumes yet, but some wore old clothes to appear beggar-like.
If you have grandparents or great-grandparents, ask them how Halloween evolved in their communities as they were growing up. You’re likely to hear some amusing stories.
It is early morning and I am standing at the edge of a concrete bunker on a mountaintop. I’m cold. In the valley stretching out around me is a thick forest of trees, and grey clouds hug the horizon. There are people below me and behind me making preparations. A voice calls, “Are we ready?” Seconds pass. “Take-off!” And then suddenly I am screaming through the air. There is a moment at first when the terrain below looks unfamiliar and I feel myself descending a bit. Panic. I am falling, falling. I am going to fall. Then I remember how to pull up with my arms, and I have a rush of déjà vu. I’m back. It feels so good to be flying again.
This is my favorite recurring dream. Always in the grey morning, always the trees, always without a plane, just my arms. Sometimes I’m by myself, sometimes someone is with me and I have to show them how to maneuver through the treetops at high speeds. We fly for long periods of time over forests and lakes. This dream has always amused me, because I don’t have a real desire to learn to fly — a plane, for instance — although I do love being a passenger in small aircraft. The smaller the aircraft the better. And I’ve been fortunate enough to have done a lot of flying this way. My favorite flight by far was taking a ski-equipped bush plane from the tiny town of Talkeetna, Alaska, to the Denali base camp on Kahiltna Glacier. A geology student at the time, I was riveted by the sight of ice bridges, moraines, glacial streams, and myriad other formations below and fanning out across the peaks and gorges of the Alaska Range.
In dreams or in a Cessna 182, what I know is this: with flight comes a change in perspective. Details shift and blend, large patterns emerge, colors deepen. It’s a reminder that the world around me in all its glitter and dust exists right now in dimensions I’ve never seen, heights I haven’t scaled. And there is still much to explore.
It’s an invitation, just above the engine roar.
Come fly with me.