Joe and I met amiably in the street that separates our houses yesterday and admired the tulips that were blooming in regal splendor outside his residence. The flowers are yellow shot through with orange and the effect is spectacular. Joe said he had lucked out -- planting the bulbs just before the first frost last year ... the squirrels really didn't have a chance to dig them up and eat them. Joe smiled his usual smile and delighted in his good fortune.
And then I asked him how he was doing. "Not so well," he replied. "My mother is dying. We're about to drive down to see her."
At 83, Joe's mother had suffered from uterine cancer. Doctors operated and she was cancer-free for a year. But then the disease returned and this time it was aggressive. "They've stopped chemotherapy," Joe said. We're going to move her from rehab to hospice."
"But she's at peace with the disease," he added. "She has a deep faith that Jesus is holding her hand and she is headed for a better place."
Joe has always been pretty benign when it comes to his strongly-held Christian faith. As far as I can see, he doesn't try to sell it. He just tries to live it. He knows that I am interested in Buddhism, but is incurious about that. He doesn't push and I don't push and both of us can enjoy the tulips. We talked a bit about loss and death and suffering and the ordinary unusualness of hard times.
At first, I balked a bit mentally when Joe spoke of heading for a "better place," but then something in me relented. It's OK. When things let go of their solemnities and are simply serious, everyone's got a tale to tell and the seriousness isn't offended. Anyone can learn a thing or two from tulips.