"Planting Sense in a Place of Senselessness" (Essay Reprint)

A tribute to my friend Cacey Combs, who lived a beautiful life no matter how it ended. Originally published September 23, 2010, I share this again as October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. #shinethelight #endDomesticViolence #loveshouldnthurt

September is a deeply transformative time. The earth passes from its summer orientation in route to winter here in the northern hemisphere. I personally feel that hurried rush of plants and animals responding to the rapidly shortening days. The leaves are just starting to turn across these Blue Ridge foothills; but despite today's 95 degree heat, one feels that this is summer's last gasping "gift" to those of us not yet ready for the bare tree season.

Of course, it is also the month of 9/11. I personally opted to refrain from the online world, deciding instead to observe a day of online silence; to reflect, remember and to be one less voice adding to the daily noise that is our text and tweet world. Perhaps I was moved to do so by the passing of my Uncle Richard a few days earlier, and my dismay at being unable to join my family at his funeral in Connecticut. Whatever the reason, I found some peace in my simple abstinence. It is a time of year when I may always struggle to find serenity, but this felt like a comforting step towards it.

Perhaps few things in this world are as transient as peace. My friend Cacey left this world violently and suddenly last Saturday night, September 18th. I heard the news Monday morning from a friend, somehow managing to have missed it on the TV. Cacey was a gentle and gracious spirit, a friend, a co-worker from my engineering days, and a neighbor. She did the booklet and package design for my 3rd CD Turning Pages. She is now also another victim of domestic violence, and her senseless death has left so many of us inside out with grief and shock.

Always a colorful personality in seeming contrast to her high standing in the corporate world, the tapestry of lives she touched has been nothing short of awesome to witness in these terrible days since.

Cacey was an artist, and her gardens and landscape showed her deep appreciation for the mysteries and beauties of the natural world. As I struggled for breath Monday trying to process the news, I let my instincts guide me and allowed myself simply to be: to be like one of nature's myriad creatures that find its way to purpose by instinct - for food, for reproduction, for survival.

Next to us is a woodlot, owned by an elderly gentleman who makes most of his income from selling firewood. I call it a magic woodlot because he has given away a lot of wood this past winter to neighbors who couldn't afford it. And instead of being depleted, most every day some truck comes by and drops off more wood for him to sell, in gratitude for his generosity. The woodpiles along the dirt roads are enormous. It's the best example of the power of human kindness paying its way forward, and a testimony to one man's life lived simply in good heart.

It hasn't always been a woodlot though. At some point someone owned a house there, planted flowers, and tended the landscape. The woods are filled with stray bulbs and plantings, still following their instinct to pop up and look for sun, their original home naught but distant memory. Behind my shed in a deeply shaded grotto, I was surprised last month by a few Surprise Lilies blooming (aka Pink Flamingoes, or as I know them, Naked Ladies. I'm serious.). I made a mental note to transplant them sometime.

Monday was that day. Sometime long ago, someone long since passed away had cared enough to plant them there, to make her own yard more pleasing to the eye. I followed my instinct through the underbrush and carefully dug up an astonishing number of bulbs, all the while thinking kindly of this anonymous soul and grateful for her gift in my moments of darkness.

I just finished planting them along my front yard where I can watch over them, enjoy them, and share them with my neighbors along our gravel road. An odd thing happened as I finished; a rogue rain shower came by, despite a 0% chance of rain in today's forecast. For about 15 minutes a gentle soaking rain fell on my freshly turned earth and its surprises buried beneath.

I'd like to think that was a little gift from Cacey. Maybe from the neighbor from long ago that I never met. A few tears, some potting soil, good red Virginia clay, and the still potent early autumn sun will do what they will for those Naked Ladies, hopefully to emerge for a brief August sunbath sometime in the future. Time will take care of the rest.

And I will remember them both.

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