“A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in–what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him, the stars.”–Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
“Mommy, why do flowers have to die?”
I was a bit taken aback by such a big question coming from such a little person. But then again, he’s been surprising me since he was born.
“Because the flowers bloom to attract the bees, so that the bees can gather and spread the pollen that will help make more flowers and trees for the earth.”
“And honey.” he chirped. “Like you put on your face, and what Nanny eats.”
“Yes, and honey.” I smiled down at him and ran my fingers through the blonde tussles of his hair. “And then, once the flowers have had their time, they wilt away to come back next year.”
The blue-gray of his wide eyes stared up at me for a beat before he turned to the camellias in our yard. I could sense him becoming frustrated. “But why can’t they just stay? Then the bees could make a lot more trees and flowers all the time.”
I wanted to answer him so badly. How could I begin to explain things in a way he’d understand? Life and death, purpose and fulfillment, coming and going. How we wear who stayed and who left in our hearts forever. “Liam, honey…”
Tears began to swim in his eyes as he ran a tiny finger across a red petal. “I don’t want them to go. I hate seeing them on the ground!”
“I know, love. I don’t want them to go either, but the bushes will stay green for the summer, and turn gold in the fall. Then they’ll rest up in the winter and the flowers will come back again, I promise.”
“It’s not fair!” At this point the tears had spilled over and were streaming down his cheeks and my 4 year old was shaking with sobs. I scooped him up and held him tight.
My own mind was racing, and my heart broke for him. I knew the scientific answers, of course, but this was a question of philosophy and heart. How do I explain this to you in a way you can understand, when I don’t even understand the point of these things myself sometimes?
“And I hate when people chop down trees. That’s mean! I hate it all!” he wailed this time and burrowed his head into my shoulder. His small hand clutched the key around my neck as he repeated again, “It’s not fair.”
“I know, honey. I know. And it’s okay to be sad about it, and to be mad about it. Flowers come and then they have to go. Animals and people, too. The best thing we can do is love them while they are here.”
He became quiet for some time as I gently swayed him in my arms. His little fingers turned the key to and fro as the sobs became quiet sniffles here and there. “I do love them.”
“Well let’s go tell them that, okay?” I said, and planted him firmly back to the ground. He gave me a pitiful little nod and I wiped his cheeks, gave him a kiss on the nose. We held hands and walked around the house as we looked at the camellias and azaleas, the dogwoods and wisteria.
“I feel all better now, mommy!” he said out of the blue, and in true little kid fashion, a few moments later he was back to his energetic self. He was all smiles again as he raced off to his swing set as if nothing was ever upsetting at all. I envy that long-gone ability of childhood.
We took a walk that evening, strolling down the dirt roads of my youth, alongside fields waiting to be tended for cotton and soy. Liam ran ahead of me and looked back in the evening light, the setting sun catching in his hair and on his skin. He was glowing and smiling in the fading light. My silver lining turned to gold.
And in that moment I realized that I may not have all the answers and I don’t always know my way. I don’t know why flowers have to die, why people come and go, and what it all means. Half the time, I don’t quite understand my purpose in life, though I have a better handle on that these days.
But I do know I am lucky to have my son. That he has an incredibly pure and tender heart, and such an innocent view of the world. And that is enough to last me for now, forever, and at the very least, until the flowers come back again.