“To suspect your own mortality is to know the beginning of terror, to learn irrefutably that you are mortal is to know the end of terror.” Frank Herbert (1920-1986) “When the game is over, the king and pawn go into the same box.” Italian Proverb
There are just two decisive moments in life – the beginning and the end. What happens in between determines who we are and what the rest of the world thinks of us. We have no control whatsoever over the beginning, as it just occurs and with the exception of suicide or gross neglect, the end is much the same. Sometimes lives last a long time and at other times, they pass away all too quickly – in any case, we do not get to choose our lifespan, it is exactly what it is. The one thing we do get to do between those decisive moments is ponder our own mortality and one of my first lessons came to me a few months after I started working as a nursery manager. It was late October and a very distraught woman came into the nursery looking for Dianthus or Pinks in bloom. Her mother was dying and she was trying to fulfill her last request – she wanted a posy of scented Pinks, like the ones she used to pick as a child growing up in England. Her final wish was to hold them in her hands and smell their spicy fragrance one last time before she died. Being so late in the season, I was unable to help her, but I did phone several suppliers in hopes of finding some in bloom, to no avail. And while she went away without the Pinks, I was still left with a profound respect for the plants I sold and a greater sense of my own mortality. More recently, I was cleaning some Heuchera plants in the perennial house, when I stumbled upon a beautiful blue dragonfly, which literally fell into my hands. It must have just died, as the body was supple and it was still quite vibrant. This time of year there are many dragonflies in the greenhouses, for some reason they fly up to the roof and flail themselves against the plastic until they are exhausted and fall to the ground dead, usually turning stiff and black within a day. I was struck by the fact that the dragonfly in my hand had probably been flying among the flowers no more than an hour ago and what I was holding was the end, or to be more precise, his end. As gardeners, we spend year after year living with the seasons – savouring the first flowers of spring, basking in the warmth of the summer sun, rejuvenating in the dews and resplendent colours of autumn – but it is that last season, winter, the season of death, that seems to be the hardest for us to accept. It too is beautiful in its own way, like the dragonfly in my hand, but it is an end. Our seasons, our lives, often come to a close much sooner than we might want them to but if we can come to the realization that in the end, dying is perfectly normal and that we are all just mere mortal gardeners, then that life is made more whole.