On the rooftop of the building adjacent to where I am house-sitting, there is a small garden. For the past two weeks, each morning, I peer out the window, admiring as an old man tends to the leaves of short and tall plants I cannot name. His face always looks peaceful, appreciative, loving, as he touches each leaf, as he waters the soil. His effort reminds me of beauty, and how it startles the heart.
He wears a wide-brimmed hat to shield the sun, and a long, thin scarf, casually thrown around his neck. I notice how it hangs down in front of his face as he bends over for a bucket, or to grab a hose, and though it appears to obstruct his view, he keeps working anyway, smiling. Sipping my coffee, I watch with admiration. Thinking of the various ways each of us lives our sunrise to sunset story.
Later, I move over to my own “garden” — a small rectangular table congested with two small vases of flowers, several books and journals, pens, and various stray objects like bobby pins, a cork from a wine bottle, a candle, chunks of spilled wax, and two sets of keys. This desk is where I practice my passion, my purpose — writing.
Similar to how my neighbor touches each leaf, I pick up pieces of wax and hold them in my hand, smiling, thinking, not thinking, contemplating the lifecycle of the blossoms currently on view. This week, they are roses — pink, red, and yellow, beautiful as they are, just because they are.
Each day that passes, the blossoms open a little bit more, and the edges of the petals brown, and one by one, they begin to fall off — what a remarkable yet straightforward example of impermanence. Picking one rose from the vase, I wonder about the seen and unseen ways my own body, my perspective, my life-story continues to change. We are given a life and asked to make the most of it between two points — birth and death, entry and departure, and all the tiny births and deaths in between.
As I stumble over lines, I think of him as he deadheads, and plucks weeds, and moves pots of plants in and out of patches of sunlight. Adjusting. And the other day, I watched as he stopped in no particular rhythm, placing his hands on his hips, looking up at the sky. My eyes followed his gaze toward an airplane, a single gull, and a pair of swifts. Then we looked at each other and smiled. Like the whole moment were a secret, and as if there were nowhere else for us to be. Presence.
I don’t know how long he’s been gardening, but I’ve been writing all my life. Though, there was a period I’d forgotten this. I’d confused the relationship between passion, possibility, and purpose with a strange, unknowing fear, and mistrust of myself.
When I was a little girl, I would spend countless hours writing and illustrating stories. In high school, I wrote articles for the school newspaper, as well as one-act plays and short stories, fantasizing about becoming a writer. But the trouble I had with realizing this dream was complicated — I wasn’t comfortable with myself, or my abilities, nor was I willing to suffer, labor, for what I loved.
I went on to college and pursued a non-creative career, feeling like an imposter most of the time. And I continued to write daily, dreaming, thinking that one day, maybe, I can be a writer.
But then an incredible, unexpected thing happened — my father died —and life shored me onto that inevitable one day.
A week after the funeral, I paid a visit to our family home. While sorting through boxes in my old bedroom, I found an essay that I’d written in high school. It was about the inner conflict I was experiencing over choosing a creative path versus a more practical one. I was saddened to read how little I trusted myself.
My father’s death revealed a painful yet enlivening stark truth: none of us know what happens until it does. So from then onward, my life ethos was: why waste a moment?
When I flew back to Amsterdam, where I was living at the time, I started writing with more intention, sensing, accepting, that it would be a path with no specific outcome.
Later that year, I repatriated, followed by months of ambling and staggering around the States, grieving, lost, resistant to change. It was a period of my life when everything seemed incredibly uncertain, in a way that felt more extreme than things generally are. Writing became my life-support.
After two years, I set out to write my first book. I aspired to be honest, reflective, and open, feeling my way toward the next step. And over the course of the following year, I held a vision rooted in love and curiosity, ready to explore the vulnerabilities of human life. I had no idea where it would lead me, and funnily enough, it brought me back to Amsterdam. It also brought me into a profoundly intimate experience of myself.
Where passion and desire intersected, I was able to move forward toward my goals with deliberate speed, without attachment to the outcome. Devoted to healing, I remained present, while gracefully exploring.
Observing my neighbor in his garden reminds me of my process of unfolding. The same patience, and bend into the beauty that emerges from the lifecycle — all of the beginnings and endings and beginnings and endings that repeat over and over, bringing us back into truth.
At the start of each sunrise, we can choose and change our actions, measuring risk against reward. And if we dare to create bravely, and courageously, with a steady forbearance, at the end of the day, we can say we lived. We can say we are beautiful as we are.
Jocelyn M. Ulevicus is a writer, educator, and seeker of truth and beauty. Her work aims to assign a meaningful, accessible, and loving language to themes of loss, trauma, and heartache. You can follow her on Instagram or contact her via her website.
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