Grandma turned 81 last Monday. I swung by her house to pick her up on the way to lunch with my mom. We were getting a good dose of April showers Monday afternoon, and I sprinted up the driveway from my car to her back door. Grandma was ready to go, but not without first pointing out the garden. "Look at the tulips," she instructed.
We stood under the cover of the back porch admiring the back yard together. The tulips were in full bloom, with the daffodils standing a sleepy sentry just before them around the entire perimeter of the circular garden. "The daffodils are just going by," Grandma said thoughtfully. "But the tulips!"
I had planted those tulips and daffodils in October 2007, when Grandma was first diagnosed with liver cancer. I remember the fall sun warming my back as I dug in the dirt while Grandma lay in the house, tended to by visiting relatives and Hospice nurses. I stayed in the yard, digging, planting and hoping through muddy tears that Grandma would make it through winter to see the bulbs bloom in spring. I had no idea that not only would she see another spring, but that she would be one of the lucky 10% to beat liver cancer, and to beat another round of a different cancer just last year.
Eighty-one years. That's a long time, although Great-Grandma (Grandma's mother) lived 17 more than that. I sometimes look at Grandma and consider all that she has lived through--so much beauty and some spectacular hurt and fear--and admire the grace with which she has hung on to this life for more than eight decades. When Grandma was my age, 37, it was 1966. Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were still alive, and we hadn't yet reached the moon. Only seven years later I was born, and although she became a grandmother at a tender age, she's always seemed wise beyond her years.
My next-door neighbor, Florence, also turned 81 this week, on Thursday. As the boys and I headed down the sidewalk from school, we saw her bringing her garbage to the curb. "You're bringing out the trash on your birthday?!" I kidded her. She laughed, "I've always done it. Why stop now?" I mentioned this to Grandma early the next morning as I picked her up from the mechanic, where she had dropped her car for a tune-up. She smirked. "You know, Monday was trash night for me, so tell Florence I put out the trash on my 81st birthday, too. Trash night is trash night, birthday or not."
So there it is, the secret to gracefully riding life's wild waves. Garbage is a fact of life. Haul it to the curb as needed, and then carry on with the celebration. And pause to admire the tulips along the way, remembering that someone once planted them in hopeful prayer of another spring.