Life is relative. A difficult theme to live by when life throws curveballs, but nonetheless invaluable in keeping perspective rather than losing ground. I know when my “personal memos from God” are addressed to me, and in all caps, when I am hit with a nugget of information that suddenly makes my problems very, very small.

Yesterday a neighbor of mine across the street was planting some flowers on the side of her house. She had just one flat of pretty pink begonias and was following the ground cover with them alongside her driveway. This in itself was not the thing that compelled me to walk over and chat for a minute, as almost all our neighbors have been busy planting lately. It was the fact that she was not planting the usual 8 flats of impatients maticulously in rows of two in the front of her house as she always has since I’ve known her. This home is one of the most beautifully landscaped around, and this family takes great pride and enjoyment in working together to keep it constantly alive and changing with the seasons.

And I had an intuition there was a very important reason this year she has not. You see, her middle daughter, whom just finished her first year of college at Michigan State, is home for the summer. Unfortunately, this young lady will be needing far more attention in the weeks to come than the impatients will. She is dealing with complications from a heart transplant she underwent years ago. And believe me when I tell you, this is no depressing story of a family defeated by their adversities. S has mustered up the fortitude to do more living since her initial surgery than most people have the courage or motivation to do in decades, maybe a lifetime. But now, there is a new obstacle for this family to once again face, deal with, and undoubteldy overcome. So when I saw the two pretty pots of geraniums on the porch in lieu of the plantings, I knew in my heart my friend has more on her mind with her children than her yard at this time.

So I walked over and we had a nice chat. But the thing that swelled my heart during this brief interaction was not intense sadness or pity for what they are dealing with on a personal level, or even the enormity of the situation at hand. It was the amount of spiritual wisdom eminating from her, and the quiet strength I knew she possessed. I walked over there to talk about her flowers, but what I really wanted to do was give her a great big hug and tell her that my family is completely there for hers in every way possible.

And you know what she wanted? She wanted to know how I was. She wanted to know how my kids have been. She wanted to know how the school year has been for them. She wanted to remind me that her family is available to tutor me in the math I’ve been struggling with. She offered me her old picnic table when they replace it. She told me about her youngest daughter’s fifth grade gradutation. Not about her pretty dress, not about the special honor of being chosen to speak, but about each and every wonderful attribute of all the teachers E spoke of, how they helped her, influenced her; the special gifts and talents they brought out in her. She briefly mentioned S and her surgery and a few thoughts on how difficult the end of school for her as a teacher had been; not because of all the loose ends to be tied up, not because end of the year activities left her juggling with both hands, but because she has had to go to work every day with a smile, being the best teacher she can be – when inside she is tangled up in knots. Most of all, she really just wanted to know how things have been in my world.

And here’s the clencher:

Two weeks ago I was brooding over the fact that another neighbor’s dog ran through my flowers. I was upset about my ruined flowers, and more upset at the people who let it happen. I actually cried over the flowers. And I stewed inside for the negligence and lack of consideration of the dog’s owners, who are actually very good friends of mine. Frankly, I was quite pissed off about the whole thing. It stressed me out, it ruined my day and it burdened my friendship with some pretty great people.

And there, across the street, where there were no flowers this year, was a family who would think a thing like trampled flowers was small potatoes. They have had to save their energy and worry for other things. From their perspective, having flowers to begin with is a sign that all is good.

And I can be sure that a dog running through them wouldn’t have the power to take that kind of good away.

Now my perspective has changed.

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