the price of love



It was cold for weeks, and spring was late, but finally I drove down a road lined with cherry trees in full bloom. I drove right down along side them, tree after tree after tree whose branches reached out across the road, above the roof of the car, to form a sort of one-sided canopy. A familiar joy stirred; I saw that the place in me that can be awed had survived another year. But as I slid beneath the heaven of the branches, a gust of wind set loose a torrent of petals, a blizzard of white, and there it was, naked, and in plain sight - the price of love.


You pay for this beauty. Intrinsic in its deep deliciousness is it’s fucking fleetingness--it’s so quick that practically as you fall in love you must make peace with losing it, you cannot hold it; there is nothing to hold. The petals slip through my fingers like teenagers heading to college, elderly parents shrinking toward death, sturdy toddlers who transform overnight into lanky boys with baseball mitts.


Tom and I are noticing weird age spots on our arms and faces. Yesterday, I bought diapers for my mother. This week three of our four children have been away, and so many rooms along the hall have been empty that we feel diminished, and I worry what will become of us, when we are no longer what we are now.


What is required is a constant giving way. I must not hold what I have too tightly; I must let it flow through my fingers as it will. Now is all there is, and Now is all there ever was, but there’s more to it than that. Didn’t the poet Stanley Kunitz put his long gnarled finger directly on it when he wrote:


how shall the heart be reconciled/to its feast of losses?


The cherry trees are a feast of losses. Family is a feast of fucking losses-- at least for those of us with an ear for loss.


It’s not that I don’t see the blossoms, the child, the family moment as a gift—I do. But as I am experiencing the gift I am simultaneously experiencing the loss. The tree blooms; the wind blows; the petals fall. At the very moment that the tree is assuring its very life, isn’t it beginning to die?


It would be easier not to see. To stumble along in splendor enjoying each season as it unfolded in its own time, letting it go when it was time to let it go, and welcoming the next with curiosity and an open mind.


But I can’t. Not right now. Not when so many people I love are getting ready to leave me.


Last week there was an essay in the New York Times by Dwight Garner, who had spent the weekend packing up his family’s picture books and putting them in the attic now that his children were twelve and fifteen. He wanted to share a list of his favorite books with other parents--that was ostensibly what the article was about--but just under the surface was so much sadness about the loss of the era in which he and his wife and his children had snuggled together and read these books over and over and over, season after season. We are all lulled into a delusion that it will never end, only then it does.


We still read to Ben every night. We have loads of picture books from twenty years of parenting, but I realized some time ago that I had stopped buying new ones, sensing the end of the road ahead. When I finished Garner’s essay I drove straight to the bookstore and bought every single title on his list, stacking the books in my arms like years I wished I could get back, determined to keep the petals on the tree for as long as I can.


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© 2020 Sarah Balsley 

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