…on glad wrap, glad tidings and gladiolus

Glad Wrap.  There is nothing joyful about the annoying stuck-on-itself nature of this product, that, once started from its roll from a box that bites, is highly useful.  IF you can keep it from reaching back and grabbing itself in mid air on its way to its role as the sealer of all things lidless.  I once made the mistake of buying a box of red Glad Wrap at Christmas time.  It lasted for at least 3 years as I avoided using it because I was annoyed by its deceptively cheerful-colored clinginess – until I was moving.  And then it became so useful… I wrapped an artificial Christmas tree for transport, lights and ornaments and all, tucking in the ends of the branches and covering every inch of it until it resembled something from the body snatchers.   I wrapped the back of the toilet in Glad Wrap to cover it while painting the bathroom.  ( Note here… don’t cover the seat if it’s to be used during renovation, no matter how tempted you are to prank your son).  I wrapped the brushes and paint tray in between coats of paint — it was a timesaver and made clean up easier.  I even wrapped the wanton and wandering poles from my wire shelving units together to make them easier to carry.  Glad was useful.

But, for me, glads have always been useful.

You see, on a farm in Southeastern Indiana sits 3 houses.  One housed my great grandmother Grace and great grandfather, “Pop”.  One that was “catty corner” and “down a ways” that housed my grandfather, “Papa” and Grandma June.  And then, around the corner, was our house.  We had a picture window in our kitchen that looked over the fields in back and it perfectly framed the horizon that glowed with the lights from my grandparents’ houses.  One regular day in 1968, Pop laid down on his couch after lunch and just didn’t wake up — I think he was perfected to death by Grandma Grace, who lived to see 1990 produce a 5th generation in my first daughter.   But in 1970, when I was 8, Grandma June went to the hospital for knee surgery  and the only result was a lot of complications and a lot of tears.  It was then that the intrigue of what lives on — and what dies — with the people we love, began for me.

Grandma June and me, around 1964.  Trying, unsuccessfully to plant a pout.

I remember Pop in the gentle creak of a rocking chair but Grandma June — I remember her everywhere.  She lives on in boiled potatoes with a little bit of salt and red fingernail polish applied as she’s going out the door for church.  In rose-handled spoons and Avon lipstick, in those tiny samples.  In a big voice, a bigger hug and a giant love.  And in a spray of gladiolus, as well as a riot of weeds.

A large garden was part and parcel to farm life.  We, along with the  weeds,  were gloriously healthy, due to the practicality and impartiality of the “organic matter” from the honey wagon that fertilized the soil and fragranced the air.  Grandma June didn’t like to weed, I thought, so she planted gladiolus in the front row to hide the weeds behind.  No one from the road could see the weeds.  You couldn’t see them from the house.  You could only see them if you walked out to the garden and ventured inside and if you were that energetic, go ahead and pull some weeds, while you’re there.  How clever!  What a beautiful way to escape the criticism that I am sure that she suffered from her next door neighbor and mother-in law, Grandma ironically-named-Grace?

But what if she wasn’t simply being clever?  What if… in a stroke of priorital (yes, I know that’s not a real word – I like making them up) genius, she consciously chose the extra burden of planting the gladiolus in order to be a source of joy and inspiration in the midst of a predictably primordial battle.   The flowers stood on strong singular stems like soldiers, peacefully watching good and evil jockey for position in the sunlight and the soil behind them.  The battle, they knew, was not theirs and when it was over,  the remains were tilled under to become fodder for the next round and the next season.  Except for the glads.  With Grandma June reverently on her broken knees, she dug the spent bulbs by hand — wiping away the dirt and packing them away to regenerate.    Tending to what mattered below ground to lay the groundwork for another season of joy.

Going through a divorce, sifting through the emotional and material fodder of a 26 year marriage, and moving the mountain that was our house, forced me to separate the weeds from the “worth keeping”.  As I went through the process, I stood back and marveled at where I had “planted glads” to hide the ugliness and pain that had become our everyday life.  Any time I was asked by a friend if everything was ok, I smiled, planted a glad and said “fine”.  Every time I iced a birthday cake and wrapped a gift, I planted a glad and sang “happy”.  Every time I sent a Christmas card wishing a joy for someone else that I did not feel, I planted a glad.  Every time I assured my children we were going to be ok and planted a kiss on their furrowed brow, I planted a glad.  It didn’t feel clever.  But it didn’t feel false either.  It felt like faith.  Faith that no matter how many years this winter of my life was going to last, it was feeding a coming bloom.  Because looking back, I realized that Grandma June planted glads even when my uncle was in Vietnam.  I realized that she planted glads when my little brother was gravely ill.  I realized she planted glads – not to fool my controlling great grandmother – but to thwart  pain with ridiculous, riotous statuesque joy.   She was, dare I flirt with a pun, a gladiator…  Slave, maybe, to circumstance but a warrior gladly fighting for her own stand of joy.

The other night I received a congratulatory message from a childhood friend who had seen my Facebook post about being sworn in as a CASA.  I messaged back that it felt good to be heading into it knowing that I was adding “purpose to the pain”.  That has become a go-to phrase of mine — as it makes the pain of these last years more bearable, more worthwhile — noble sounding, even.  In the middle of the night I jolted awake wondering “did I type in that I added pain to the purpose?  Had I reversed it? Please, don’t let me have said that.  That is not what I meant! Who would say that? Who would wish that purpose would come with pain?”  Fortunately, I had beaten myself over nothing – except that I realized it was time to cultivate something else.  If I could choose to add purpose to pain, why couldn’t I choose to add joy to purpose?  Why couldn’t I purposely plant some gladness, not to hide the ugly, but to bring joy to my view, again?

That’s a tall order, these days.  Personal trials aside, social media and societal anxiety are fertilized every day with a crap slinging “honey wagon” of judgement and fear.  It seems that nothing will curb the growth of the hate that is growing like weeds through party lines, headlines, across family ties and into every conversation.  But then a wonderful thing happened — in an unpredictably positive explosion of pastel… Post-it notes appeared on imageevery locker in a local high school, bearing uplifting messages.  1700 of them.  A stand of ridiculous, unriotous, righteous planted glads.  I see you Grandma June, because I see the spirit in those teenage gladiators, choosing to plant something right in front of us to lift eyes, hearts and hopes.

Gladness comes in gently… like a gentle summer rain that makes its way to the garden soil simply by following the nature of leaves.  And then it lingers, it clings, even, like the paradox of a grandmother’s hug that is, at once, the softest and strongest force imaginable.

“And the angel said to them, Fear not, for behold, I announce to you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all the people.”    Luke 2:10

In this season, when we are being commanded to be “Merry and Bright” or to have a “Holly Jolly”, finding joy feels like pressure.  So, I am going to simply start being glad.  I am glad you are here.  I am glad to be here, too.  So… Glad Tidings, my friends.  Bunches and bunches of them.