My New Spirit Place

In the shade beneath the feathery emerald branches of a weeping white pine in a secret garden, I closed my eyes. My yearning for the spirit therapy of the dawn redwoods I left behind, along with the rest of my life in St. Louis, was quiet. I had arrived at the new altar of my peace. I breathed in the joyful air of finding a treasure, and I exhaled the end of a two-year search—or, rather, a waiting—for a new spirit place.

I am curating a new life and redefining peace for myself in a charming, craftsman bungalow on a corner lot in a sleepy college town. It is still a restless, sorrowful, lonely journey, but I am well most days and comfortably tethered to the earth. But now that I have found The Whiteside Garden, I have a place for my spirit to wander, for my mind to wonder, and for my heart to continue its journey of healing. I finally have a place to contemplate life, to contend with grief, and to get the hell out of my head for an hour or two each week, away from home. A place to amble and write and commune with trees.

I extract a great deal of the vitamins I need to be emotionally healthy by tending to my old house, reading on my breezy, shady porch, and spending meditative time in the yoga garden I created all by myself. But I have spent two years looking for a replacement for my health-giving, Wednesday morning strolls through the Missouri Botanical Garden. I’ve spent two years pining (pun here intended) for a place that is serene but engaging, bright and shady and lovely, restorative and transcendent. The Lake Charleston trails are too rugged, the sidewalks of my historic neighborhood too noisy, the college campus too populated with ghosts of the past, and the bike trail, although vibrant with wildflowers and butterflies, too unsheltered from the punishing Midwestern sun.

The dawn redwoods and the Missouri Botanical Garden helped me begin my spirit’s healing. And now the weeping white pines and The Whiteside Garden, just two miles east of my new home, will tend to my spirit going forward.

Who knew I only needed to get in my car and drive across a state highway and a corn field, to find my new spirit place? It’s funny how simple the remedies for our sorrows often are. Funnier still how long it sometimes takes to find precisely what we need, although the remedy is so close, within shouting distance, or just around the corner. And isn’t it frustrating that some of our remedies, the life-altering, precious, restorative life medicine we need is often hidden behind an experience or acquaintance that has not, as yet, crossed our path? Is it not unfair that we must sometimes wait for that remedy to emerge from the randomness of life, from serendipity and stupid luck?

Oh, that life is short and still we must be patient.

The planets do not align for our singular benefit, but sometimes we do win the universe’s lottery. In fact, I find it to be mostly true that the elixirs and balms that have helped me to survive my grief have found me when I wasn’t looking. It is no surprise to me that I would find my new spirit place by happenstance. That at yoga one Friday morning at the end of summer I would meet a woman, and that the yoga teacher would introduce us and tell her I was new to the area. That the woman would give me her docent elevator pitch for The Whiteside Garden. That I would venture out into a dangerous heat wave to visit the garden later that morning. That a weeping white pine would greet me like I had known her my entire life. That I would stand under her gentle branches, sheltered in the impossible coolness beneath them, and know that my spirit was home.

The Whiteside Garden, the lifelong labor of love of Eastern Illinois University botany professor Wesley Whiteside, is small and charming, hemmed in by a busy state highway and central Illinois fields of corn and soybeans. Yet to me, it a grand thing, a majestic replacement for my beloved Missouri Botanical Garden. The weeping white pine a gracious gift to fill the void of the dawn redwoods. This glorious new spirit place is the perfect size, the perfect setting, for me right now, where I am in time and space, where I am in my journey of healing. Opened to the public just three months ago, The Whiteside Garden is also a new kid in town, just like me. Yet, as Professor Whiteside, who died in 2015, began cultivating the gardens surrounding his home in the early 1960s, before I was born, his legacy garden will be a wise teacher.

     

Mack with Me

By myself, I am walking,
Mindfulness in all my steps,
Heel to toe, toe to earth.
Purposeful, with measurement.
In the walking, in my presence,
I find solace out of sorrow.
Unaccompanied, I walk in silence.
Yet I am not alone.

Mack is here.

Her presence in my present
Is my permission.
To breathe. To see.
To find my feet.
To find my peace.

By myself, the mornings
Are coffee and worries.
Blurry with my future,
Foreverness of loneliness.
Caffeine anxiety
For future years of misery.
I lose myself in the tyranny
Of incapacity for grace and dignity.

Mack is not in this state with me.

Her no-show no surprise to me.
To fret. To sweat
What I cannot change and cannot know
Just wastes precious time
She did not get.

By myself, in bed at night,
I fight to sleep.
To be at rest.
I toss and turn through history.
Through memories of who I was
When Mack was here.
When tragedy was unforeseen.
But when I wish upon the past,

Mack will not reminisce with me.

She sees no good
In glances back.
To dwell on loss, forget what’s not.
It breaks her heart
To see me lost.

By myself, I need to breathe.
To learn to sleep.
To find my dreams. To stay awake.
With every step. Through every task.
Through every day.
I need to learn to live for now.
To be content with me
And how to be right here,

Where Mack will be.

Where joyfulness can walk with me,
And Mack with me.
How I can laugh
And hope and see
All the life in front of me.

For you, my dear Mackenzie, on your birthday.
I am here. With you. In the present.