Rosa Returns, or A Thin Place on Grant Avenue
(Note: I wrote this seven years ago, shortly after the Memorial Day weekend when this event took place. We still lived in Manassas at that time. The new inhabitants of Rosa’s house were close family friends of hers, and by extension had become our friends as well.)
Rosa and I were the only two people for blocks around who hung out up laundry to dry. Our sheets flapped in unison in the unbroken spread of our joined back lawns. But Rosa has been gone for almost eight years, and in truth, the last years of her life her clothes lines drooped unused as she made slow, stooped progress across the back yard to talk with me. She couldn’t garden either, but she still made the rounds poking at plants with her cane as she inspected the flower beds she had created. Sometimes she hired help, sometimes she resigned herself to weeds and overgrown plants.
I think of Rosa when I hang out laundry, not every time, but often. I wasn’t thinking of her the other Friday, the first day of the Memorial Day weekend. The sun shone in a blue, blue sky. Birds sang everywhere. I paused as I pinned a pillow case to the line to look up at the tall holly tree across the fence that now divides our lawns. It used to be no more than a shrub planted in a triangular bed marking the corner of Rosa’s property. Now it reaches high above me, green against the sky. But there was more than holly growing out from the greenness, and it wasn’t holly berries. About 15 feet above me a large cluster of roses waved in the breeze. My mouth dropped open. I stood transfixed. These were Rosa’s beloved roses, the ones she had tended carefully down on the ground. They had disappeared years ago, died off I supposed, or cut out by Garrett or Amanda, the current owners of “Rosa’s house.” I walked along the recently installed fence to the gate so I could look in to see if roses were blooming below. Nothing. I walked back and looked up. It was as if she were up there, smiling down on me, waving to get my attention. How is it that I had not noticed them before? What was it about this moment that caused me to look up? Could she really be calling to me?
It felt like the inverse of one of our first interactions. We barely knew each other then. That morning I was high up, leaning out to wash away many years of accumulated grit from my bedroom window. Rosa, three stories below in her flower bed, looked up at me and smiled. “It’s good to see this house loved again,” she had said. Now she was blessing me from above. I was the one on the ground.
I wanted to go and tell everyone, “Rosa stopped by. She sneaked in when we weren’t looking. She’s still around.” Most of all I wanted to tell Ed, her son. I knew he was probably the only one who would remember the bush. This had to be more than happenstance, coming on Memorial Day weekend, and it wasn’t the iris or lilies from that bed that reappeared, but Rosa’s roses, her signature.
I didn’t get hold of Ed until Monday morning. He came not knowing what I had to show him, but when I took him back to the corner and pointed up at the still waving roses, I needed no words to explain. He stood there rubbing his goose bumpy arms, as much at loss for words as I had been. Little Ellie from next door spotted “Grandpa Ed” and came running over with Garrett and Amanda behind. We all stood and looked.
Of course, there is a rational explanation for those roses—the sturdy shoots grew as high as they needed through the dense holly to reach the sunlight. I know about stubborn rose canes, but I choose to believe there is more than this calm, well-reasoned explanation.
In Celtic spirituality there is the belief that certain places or times are experienced as “thin,” meaning that the barriers between our physical world and the world of spirit have thinned out and almost disappeared, so that we catch glimpses or are touched in a palpable way by the inexplicable world beyond our usual senses. Sometimes these glimpses come in the form of something familiar—like roses, for instance. And from someone familiar, like Rosa.
A thin place is not a door wide open showing in the clear light of day what lies beyond. I have no idea “where” Rosa is or how much she “sees” or “knows” about life here in the back yards of Grant Avenue. Does she simply live on in the energy of her pugnacious rose, so much like her own determined, undefeated energy, or does she actually see me as I hang out sheets and pillow cases? What I do know is how like her it is to intuit that I am struggling right now, and also how characteristic it is not to ask what is wrong, but to offer me a smile and some small assurance of her love. That I am not making up. Nor am I making up the way those roses infused my morning, my weekend, and many days beyond with a sense of being loved in all my humanness, all my searching and uncertainty. I continue to feel her smile. I relax into her warmth.
And she brought us all together, something that hasn’t happened in several years. We see each other frequently, but not all together at the same time. Now Wayne and I, Ed, Garrett, Amanda, and even little Ellie stood together for a few minutes, united by the love of the one person who was present only in the red blooms blazing above us. Her love still touches us all, even Ellie whom she never met.
Post Script: To my knowledge, the roses never reappeared.