I can't count the times I've come here, but Jane can recall them all and even categorize the solemn visits as carefully shielded requests for solace in the face of life's disappointments or as open cries for encouragement. The laughter from the other visits, the joyous ones, still tinkles the bits and pieces of rescued windchimes that hang from nails along the top of the fence.
Sensing the look of recognition as my eyes rest on the limestone boulder behind her, Jane waves her dry hand and then pats the empty half of the glider.
"You think you know, don't you?" she asks with a hint of glee in her voice.
"It sure has taken a long time, but it hit me all of a sudden yesterday. All this time, I've watched the garden grow from a few clay pots on the brick edge of the patio to this fantasy faeryland filled with surprises like those butterfly bushes gathered over there in the sunniest corner of the yard and the bits of labyrinth blended into that path of stones and moss I like to take to the middle of the yard. All this time, Jane, and you never said a word about the boulder, never mentioned why you'd slowly carved those extra curves and ledges into it."
The chuckle practically explodes from the woman beside me, and we both lean into a big bear hug before she launches into the story that's been here in the garden all along.
"Once John was gone, I cried and cried, of course. No way for me to change what had happened, and no way to stay sane unless I could change it."
She drifts away from me for a minute, and I can tell she's reliving some past afternoon with John, trying to decide whether the scale tipped more to the good or to the bad side when all the pain was measured.
"He was good in the beginning. The good was good enough to make me cry when it was gone. Not even the worst of the bad could make me forget that good. I had to hold onto it. Had to find a way to remember it even when his face faded so I could hardly remember that part of him. I decided to put that boulder to good use. I sure couldn't afford to have it busted up and hauled away. "
"You'd think I planned it all along, wouldn't you? Look at it now. That curve chiseled out of the top is one of my favorite places to bring my books. My coffee cup fits exactly on that little ledge. And heaven knows, those little pansies look like they were meant to grow in that shallow groove on the top."
"It just grew over the years, though, and I never had a plan for how it would turn out. Life is like that, you know. You take whatever you're given, you decide how you're going to use it, and you hope it turns out to be good for you."
"That big old rock could've ruined my yard if I'd let it. I couldn't budge it, even if I got my shoulder way down low and dug my feet in sideways. Same with John's illness. I couldn't budge it, no matter what I tried."
"I couldn't change it."
"But you know what? I could change how I saw it. I could see a big ugly rock ruining my yard, or I could see a neat way to fill in space and anchor my garden. Same thing for John. I couldn't change what happened, but I could change how I saw it. It was bad, and it was unfair, but I finally came to a day when I didn't have the energy to cry another tear."
"That was the day when I realized that John was the boulder in the garden for me. . .he anchored me, and having to deal with what happened taught me to find ways to work around it and still have my garden, still have my life without forgetting him."
For a second, I think she's going to cry again. I know my own eyes are sweating out here in the sunlight.
"Honey, you better wipe your eyes and listen to me. I'm going to say it plain and simple. I know you came over here to tell me you think you've finally figured out life because the importance of that boulder dawned on you. Listen to me. That boulder is the most important part of my garden right now, just like loving John those too few years was one of the most important parts of my life. BUT not a one of us can guarantee there won't be another damn boulder sitting in the middle of our yard when we wake up in the morning."
"No, you've got to carry the understanding of that boulder one more step. You've got to remember that it's not just the size of the boulder nor the number of boulders that's important. . .it's all about how you choose to see the boulders you can't move. You cry. You curse. You shove as hard as you can until you know for sure you can't move it. Then you start building around it."
Here's to finding the strength to keep building your life, even when you think the pushing and shoving and digging your feet into the ground has worn you down to nothing. Just like this rambling story, life is never all good nor all bad, it just is.