I am in a coffee shop, at a table by the window. The window is partially obscured by the large split leaves of a philodendron. This big tree grows up toward the ceiling, then bows down toward the filtered light, seeking the sun that is obscured by clouds.
An old man with a bicycle walks past the window. He holds 3 red roses in his right hand, the same hand that holds up the bicycle. The bicycle is also red, a dark Ruby red. He wears a blue-black jacket and faded jeans, and his dusty white beard falls just below the level of his collar bones. He sees me glance up. Our eyes meet, and he pauses, stooping down to look in at me between the green heart-shaped leaves. He leans the bike against his body, holds out the roses, points at them, smiles. I smile back. He points again, nodding emphatically. They are beautiful! – I say through the window, and he grins and continues on his way.
I sit for a moment in absolute stillness, my mind quiet. Something has just shifted, and I am grateful for this old man and his roses. A sudden understanding, still without words, opens out of this stillness, this dark compost that is my soul.
The image echos: three roses, an old man holding them up. Three different shades – a deep passionate Ruby red, a softer red that borders on pink, and a simple red, a pure red – crayola crayon red without the qualifiers.
So similar to the roses Tanza painted – roses from her garden in France – and for just a moment, I think they are the same flowers, inexplicably transported through time and space. Time warps, space turns in upon itself and roses fall like rubies, ruby-throated hummingbirds flit through echoes of laughter, megaladons dive joyfully in powerful remembrance.
Have you ever seen a Ruby? Brilliant, blood-red, sharp and shiny and alive, all fire and passion as it sparkles in sunlight. Or maybe pink – did you know that rubies can also be pink? Soft and gentle and lit up from the inside by a music that comes from the depths of the universe. Vibrant, always vibrant.
Today, I honor another Ruby. Ruby in her photographs, Ruby playing a bass, Ruby behind a camera, her soul appearing in black and white expressions that document her experience as a teen with cancer. Ruby in a Rainbow Shroud. Ruby as an expression of Love.
Grit and grace and gratitude, in the words of her amazingly strong and powerfully beautiful mother. Thank you, Ruby, for being you, and Thank You, Kate, for sharing her with me.
“It’s been a year,” my sister said, the day after Ruby died. She was referring to Tanza’s passing. “I forget sometimes,” she went on to say. “I just think she is off traveling again.”
You know those experiences. You think of someone and the phone rings and the person you were just thinking of is on the other end. You have a dream of someone, and there is an email in your box from them the next day. We’ve all experienced that kind of connection…. Sometimes we dismiss it. Sometimes we pay attention to it. Maybe we cultivate it and make it stronger. Maybe we laugh it off as co-incidence.
Here’s what I know now: That subtle connection is a form of communication, and that level of communication does not end with physical death. I often feel Tanza around me, get strong hits of her laughter or her energy, feel her amazement as I watch a hummingbird at a flower. Nearly five years after his death I still feel my father’s presence at times: a whiff of his dad-smell, his quiet laugh, his simple presence, his strength. I feel a vibrancy from Ruby too, and although I never met her in her human body, I have held her long in my heart and I know that her legacy is love.
There are others too, animals as well as human. Bodies die, but the essence of those we love embeds itself deeply in our souls, never to leave. Sometimes their presence is clear and precise, other times they feel far away. But we never lose them, not really. So long as we are willing to open our hearts to feel deeply, we are able to receive the gift of true connection, of real communion.
It’s a beautiful thing.
I think again about the old man. Large girth, slightly stooped, shaggy white beard, head full of gray tousled hair, a smile to fill the earth. I wonder who he is, where is going, who the flowers might be for. Where they came from. Where he came from.
Whatever else might be true, whatever his story, I think this is also true: He walked by for me that day, to remind me of something I needed to know. Those 3 red flowers shimmer like rubies in my heart: a tribute to all who have gone before us, and for all who have yet to come, and as a reminder of the subtle and oh-so-strong threads that bind us all together.
For Ruby, with love ~