A Personal Perspective: The surprises inside of us.
Posted November 16, 2021 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster
Each of us is alone in our head. We have an endless number of daily conversations with ourselves. Every one of them is a secret to the rest of the world. It would never be possible to share that convention of speakers with others. They come and go so quickly we don’t even have time to listen.
There are also so many secrets that the universe hides from us. At the perfectly appropriate time, life eventually reveals them. Secrets can excite us, and they can terrify us. The secret is accepting secrets and finding the courage to unlock the hidden secret inside the secret.
When I was a young boy, on the outside, I was a perfect little quiet child. That is what fueled my hidden love of secrets. There were good ones and some that I would never even confess today.
One exciting secret happened when I was seven years old. My mother took me to the store one day in early fall to buy lilac seeds.
“Let’s have a secret,” she said, “just you and me. We’ll plant these seeds along the side of the house, and then they will start to grow in the spring. After a while, they will bloom into beautiful purple flowers. We can say ‘Surprise!’ to the rest of the family.” She knew that I loved flowers. I couldn’t wait to see them grow and make everyone happy.
Four months later, however, early on New Year’s Eve, a much bigger surprise happened.
My four siblings and I woke to the unexpected sound of aunts and uncles mumbling quietly downstairs in our living room. As we crept down the steps, Dad led us into his bedroom. He closed the door and sat quietly for a minute.
He put his head down and took a long pause.
“Last night, your mommy went to heaven.”
It was the first time I had ever seen him cry. That was more disturbing to me than the news he was telling us. My seven-year-old brain could not process any concept of death, but I felt my father’s pain and fear. At that moment, I had not heard that Mommy would not be coming home. All I heard was that she was visiting heaven.
“Daddy, does she still love us?”
That just made him cry even harder.
“Yes!” he said quietly and loudly at the same time. “She will always love you.”
As the day went on, I became frightened by what I was supposed to do with our secret of the lilacs. Metaphorically, I now know that the true secret was not what my mother planted in the yard but rather what she planted in me. That was the secret inside the secret.
I was a little gay boy living a secret I would not even reveal to myself for another fifteen years. My life and the garden were one and the same. My mother had planted the seeds, with my little hands helping, and no one knew, including me, what would eventually bloom.
The secret of losing a loved one is that they continue to grow and bloom in our hearts. No one can take that away. Whether or not you believe in an afterlife, you can’t deny that they live on in our thoughts, our memories, our hearts, and in the words we use to remember them.
Some of the most powerful, unexpected, and beautiful secrets appear out of nowhere. They are unexplainable synchronicities. In my mind, they are gifts handed to us, often in difficult times, as a reminder that life is happening just as it is supposed to be.
Twenty-eight years after my mother’s death, I was on a musical tour almost to the day, which took us around the country raising money and awareness for AIDS.
While in Indianapolis on a cold winter day, I was waiting for others to board the bus and feeling overwhelmed by the sadness of everything that we had absorbed through meeting so many people in so many cities, all of whom had been affected by the AIDS crisis.
I began to cry, so I got off the bus and slowly strolled through a large snow-covered city park. Inside an open gazebo, I saw a shiny little plaque under the snow. I brushed it off with my gloves and read the inscription.
“Smile. Lilacs will bloom here in the spring.”