Affection and Ivy

I said my farewells to the two ivy today.

They were seven years old.  I’ve written about them here before: my husband got them for me, on a lark, a few days after we returned from Rome.  I watered them and put them on a windowsill.  They grew.  I got them new pots, transplanted them.  They kept growing.  I got them other new pots when they outgrew the first set.

I loved those silly plants.

I gave them Irish names.  I fretted on vacations about whether or not our house-watcher would water them and wrote out careful instructions for her.  I pruned them regularly as they grew at an alarming rate, my countertop full of wild unruly vines.

But they have been slowly, slowly dying.  Do plants have natural lifespans? Do they die of old age?   I don’t know.  I just know I watered them like always and repotted them in case it was the soil and gave them the nutrient spray they seemed to like and they kept turning brown, so maybe it was just time.

And on the one hand, it’s probably pretty childish to name plants.

But I am a creature of attachments.  I care about things, creatures, people easily.  I have named the bee who visits our lavender, and our birds.  I keep mementos and little memories and cards and special things in boxes.  I cried endlessly when my first cat passed away.  I get misty over the Christmas card list every year now when I see the names that are crossed out. 

There is a school of thought in Christianity that says detachment is the order of the day.  Attach only to God; forget everything else.  And I do not subscribe to this notion, which is deeply Buddhist at its origin.  Certainly don’t let other things rule you; don’t deify them.  But attachments?  Connections?  Valuing and cherishing other people, other creatures?  That’s part of the deal. 

Love for others comes from loving God.  Investing in others, getting involved in their lives, developing relationships with them: we’re made to be for each other in so many different ways.  We’re made for affections, for care, for relationships.

But attachments also hurt.

I refused, initially, to get another cat after I lost my first one.  “I don’t want another cat ever,” I told my husband through snot and tears.  “She was the best one.”  (We got two new kittens.  They are, also, the best ones).  A lost friendship haunted me for years.  I still cry at every candelight service thinking of my grandparents, my aunt, and other family members who have passed on.

We all pay a price of some kind, to love.  We pay it with our time and our investment.  We pay it with everything we give and invest in people, in the little parts of ourselves that become indelibly changed because of them, and the parts that stay with them. 

In this broken world, love costs us all something.  Even the best and longest ones.

When I was very small, someone got me a decorative soap shaped like a teddy bear.  I don’t remember why I was so besotted with it, but I loved it.  I had in my head that I wanted to “preserve” it forever, so I filled a dixie cup with water and put the soap inside.

I assumed, in my childishness, that was the environment soap needed to “live” in.

But when the soap emerged from its cup, it was a tiny little chip of melting color that looked nothing like a teddy bear any  more.  My bewildered mother tried to figure out why I had done what I did; I cried because the soap I wanted to keep had disappeared.  And I had disappeared it.

Then, as now, I wanted everything good to stay the same forever.  I was heartbroken to learn that it didn’t.

And at every reminder that it doesn’t on this fallen earth—that it can’t—I quail.  I grow anxious over circumstances I can’t control.  I cry over losses.  I mourn things that can’t be the way they always were.

And I feel strangely sad, throwing out the ivy that has died.

Back when my cat died, I found myself confronting the theology of redemption.  What did it mean for all things to be redeemed?  For all creation to be redeemed?  What does that mean for my cat, for the ivy, for hawks and the parasite insects that eat out the brains of living creatures, to be redeemed?  What does that mean?  What does that look like?

I don’t know.  I don’t think it’s coincidence that I don’t know.  I think I can’t imagine it.  That it is literally beyond me, a fallen-yet-redeemed person in a fallen-yet-redeemed world, to conceive of what it means for God to make everything new.  Not to start over again, not to scratch the whole project and try again, but to redeem.

I can say what I think it means: that I know one day everything will exist in the fullness of what God intended it to be, restored from its brokenness.  But when I try to think of what that means, how that looks for my aunt or my grandmothers, for Miss Ruby from our old church, what that means for trees or the community of believers I know—

I can’t even dream it.  But I know it will be so good, because I see the echoes of that redemption in the love that I love even when it costs me something.  Even though it always costs all of us something.

One green vine remained on one of the ivies.  Following Google’s instructions, I snipped it where I was supposed to snip it and tucked it into a sandy soil in an ancient coffee cup.  I put the coffee cup in the window. 

If all goes well, Google tells me, it will grow roots and, over time, I will be able to repot it.   Right now, a day out from its severing, it is still green and jaunty in its little pot.  I have named it “Son of Fergus,” after its progenitor.  I’m hopeful it will live. 

“Wouldn’t it be cool?” I said to my husband.  “If the initial ivy died but was able to carry on?  Wouldn’t it be cool to have a little descendant ivy that grew up and had to be repotted?”

It would be cool.

But I am also well aware the little ivy cutting might not make it.  And if it doesn’t, that’s okay, too.  The hope is the thing.  The endurance.  The continued affection.  Because what I have learned over time is that the answer to hurt that comes from attachment is not detachment.

It’s to keep on giving, and loving, and caring.

To keep letting things matter even when I know nothing good can stay the same on this fallen earth for always and always.  To keep loving again and again even if I know it can hurt.

Because that’s how God loves.

And because He knows what it means to love like that, because He is who He is, He is the one who will set all things right again.

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