On Sunday, a close friend arrived with another friend early afternoon. She had said she would drive to the farm after church, if she was able. This was the last really warm day: frost was predicted for Tuesday morning. Then the flowers would wilt with the frost and fade. These two women, both octogenarians, were blossoming in their womanliness like late-season flowers.
My friend wore hand-dyed pants of mixed bold colors,a richly textured olive green top and green cardigan, with matching bold jewelry. The other woman, an artist who works in stained glass, usually wears muted colors. This day, she wore fine clothes of vibrant blue over her back brace. Shimmering white—a white mohair shawl, a handmade iridescent glass choker around her neck and iridescent glass earrings—all accented her fluffy white hair. She walked with a crutch and accepted help to get up the steps to the farmhouse. Her vibrant spirit shone in her broad smile and sparkling eyes.
I had just returned from my favorite orchard, where I had found a box of luscious pears, seconds, for two dollars. They too glowed, though most had a blemish or two. Soon we savored those pears, beets with tomatillos, a mixed tomato salad, smoked salmon, cheddar cheese, hard pretzels, dark chocolate- covered cherries and a cup of coffee. The friend in blue said she was grieving: five of her friends had died within the last three months. She remembered each one with a name and a vignette.
Then I picked them produce from the garden. Each had asked for a bouquet of flowers. I walked into the long row of brilliant orange, red and yellow zinnias. In the center of the row, butterflies surrounded me--Monarchs mostly. Some rested motionless on the flowers; some fluttered just above the plants; others flitted close to my face; one or two drifted skyward. I felt my soul stir. Butterflies had comforted a close friend the year after her best friend died. Would they comfort this woman now?
A woman in her mid-years came to the farm to get sweet potatoes. I invited her into the row of zinnias. She, too, was moved. I asked her to help me walk my two friends to the center of the row. Sure, she responded. My friend drove her car close to the row of flowers. I asked if they could walk some fifty feet to the center of the row. The younger woman helped the woman who walked with a crutch, while I walked near my close friend as she walked slowly with her cane.
The sun was bright; warm soft air moved around us. Our spirits danced with the butterflies. None of us had ever seen so many butterflies in the wild. They must be on their great migration to Mexico, the woman in blue commented. She found a wing of a monarch on the ground on the way up the row, intact and full of color. She found it again on her return, a wing so light and delicate and yet durable enough to carry the butterfly two thousand miles to Mexico. What wonder!
I learned later that the monarch butterflies take four generations to complete their life cycle. The fourth generation hatches in September and October, then flies to Mexico where they will spend the winter before they themselves lay eggs to begin the next life cycle. Here were my two friends, crones. How soon would they make their soul's journey home? I was now about the age that my close friend was when I had first met her. I had watched her spirit become freer, her soul deeper, his wisdom stronger, even as she became more physically limited. What would be my fate, I wondered, as I aged?
On this day, I gloried in the brilliance of their bloom, so late in the season of their lives. As they drove away, I treasured the presence of a younger woman next to me. I felt the four stages of a woman's life: from young girl, to maiden, to mother to crone.
Again I affirm: To life, to life, L'chaim. Let's drink to life itself!