I love surprises, always have. Life for me has always been an adventure, and I have frequently said that there are at least a dozen guardian angels in my orbit, if not more. The good surprises have always far outweighed the bad, however. So, when my partner suggested we move to southern Maine after a series of unexpected Really Bad Surprises (the ones that came with his cancer diagnosis). I said “of course.” I quit my job, came here with him, and we both felt the change would be a good one.Karl died eight months after our arrival.
There are many books and essays about what it is like to be the partner and caregiver of one who is terminally ill. This essay is not one of them. My story is about the unexpected gifts that come with tragedy, if only one is open to them.
First, some background. My grandmother, Edna Tilghman Larson, took me by the hand and heart when I was a child, and taught me about the natural world. As we walked her property, she would teach me about trees, herbs and flowers. Edna understood how to heal with the gifts of the earth, and she taught me, too. She showed me how to pay attention, to figure out what nature was trying to say. This way of experiencing life has influenced mine in profound ways.
I wrote a book about Edna, so I could share her wisdom with the world. Adulthood took me to live in noisy urban centers on both coasts, but I never lost touch with her world and continued to make and use her herbal tinctures and flower essences in spite of my hectic city life. For years, however, I was separated from everyday contact with nature and the Earth.
Then came the move to Maine, a place I had visited only once before. This move - a blind one, really, for me – was a profound experience. Friends assumed that I would leave Maine after Karl’s death, move back to Philadelphia, or perhaps back to Washington, DC. I never considered it for a moment. Somehow, in the midst of grief and confusion, I knew I was home. To the amazement of all I moved to a new house in December. Two days later the first blizzard hit, and my new property was covered in white for months. All of that snow was like wrapping paper, and as it disappeared with the onset of Spring I have slowly come to understand the magnitude of the gift I have been given.
Spring in Maine is incredible. Mainers do not take good weather for granted; the minute the temperature begins to climb people are outside as much as possible. The air, sea and land all work together as a natural anti-depressant. It is impossible to live here and not feel it.
On a personal level, Spring in my new home brings daily surprises that take me back to my childhood with Edna. I had no idea what to expect, as I bought the property in the winter. Last month, however, that old Spring magic began to work. It started with the daffodils and tulips, which I kind of expected. But now – what is that I see? A lily? Those bushes are lilacs! Grape hyacinths have appeared, and suddenly there are chives, asparagus, and rhubarb growing in the early spring garden. Overnight it seems that my lawn has become a carpet of violets. I am quietly thrilled.
I’ve always loved surprises, the little thrill that comes with opening an unexpected gift. The element of surprise is adding to my delight in this new home. This re-connection with childhood (and my grandmother) is helping me understand the profound sense of unexplainable ennui that has been dogging me for so many years. I used to ask myself how I could be unhappy – my life was fine. Yes, I left a business behind in Washington, DC (the original Larson Institute, now closed), my way of sharing my grandmother’s life and talents with the world. I continued to make the tinctures and essences for myself, however, and also shared them with friends. All of this seemed to be a good compromise, a way to keep the tradition while I forged a new path that helped me find my financial footing. I thought I was ok.
I have a little cottage now, on a small cove. My life is fairly quiet. The land welcomes me, telling me that it has been here all along, patiently waiting for me to find it. Now I am in my element again, the Prodigal Daughter returns. I am finding the joie de vivre that I lost years ago. I searched everywhere to find it in the cities I lived in. I found many pleasures, even found happiness for all-too-brief periods of time. But contentment? Never. Not until I came here.
The changes are profound. I leaped headlong into this new life, blindly trading the world I knew for an adventure. My life is less secure than it once was, but I have found a sense of peace that abides even through the losses.
I am content.
Amanda Larson is a writer and business consultant who lives in southern Maine. She is the author of “Healing From a Grandmother’s Heart” (Larson Institute Press).