There are some shrimp shells in the trash that are departing the house none too soon, and dead flowers from the floral centerpiece I bought for our friend and co-worker Charlotte's retirement party. Some of the flowers, these pom-pom-looking green things whose name I've forgotten, and are still going strong more than two weeks on, so I left them in the vase. Others were ready to be tossed days ago, but we didn't notice.
On the day the arrangement was delivered, while we were preparing for the party, we got some very bad news. A dear friend who was supposed to be at this party with her husband had just been rushed to the hospital by ambulance and was awaiting surgery. We were already reeling from the previous day's events. Zoe's oncologist had told me she was worried about what looked like two tiny hardening spots in the halfway-through-chemo lung X-rays. We will know more this Wednesday when we take her back to Ottawa for more tests.
But that night of the party, as the house filled up with our colleagues and Charlotte's family, and as Zoe made the rounds to lean up against her human friends, we still felt the happiness that comes from bringing a lot of people together, eating good food (the theme was Italian) and honoring someone we love who has worked so hard, day after day, week after week, year after year, to infuse our lives with the perfect combination of efficiency, beauty, professionalism, and care--someone who has never forgotten that our work lives are intimate, based on human relationships and exchanges, one after the other. Charlotte's ability, as our office manager, to get along well with each of us, with all the complex emotional histories we bring to our professional lives is more miraculous than those flowers in the arrangement that refuse to die long past their sell-by date. As people took turns toasting Charlotte, I was reminded again what it means to be part of a community.
Today, as I carried out the bags of trash, I thought of a passage from Thich Nhat Hanh, my go-to Buddhist for finding solace in challenging times. He writes in Your True Home: "Flowers and garbage are both organic in nature. So looking deeply into the nature of a flower, you can see the presence of the compost and the garbage. The flower is also going to turn into garbage, but don't be afraid! You are a gardener, and you have in your hands the power to transform garbage into flowers, into fruit, into vegetables. You don't throw anything away, because you are not afraid of garbage. Your hands are capable of transforming it into flowers, or lettuce, or cucumbers.
"The same is true of your happiness and your sorrow. Sorrow, fear, and depression are all a kind of garbage. These bits of garbage are part of real life, and we must look deeply into their nature. You can practice in order to turn these bits of garbage into flowers. It is not only your love that is organic; your hate is, too. So you should not throw anything out. All you have to do is learn how to transform your garbage into flowers."