It was my birthday this past week.
The night before, news broke of an active shooter in Las Vegas, USA. It was unfolding at that moment that hundreds were injured, several were killed.
I didn’t sleep much.
When I woke up to a chorus of happy birthday, balloons, and pastries, I had mixed emotions. I didn’t want to check the news. I didn’t want to know how many fatalities there were or how many thoughts and prayers were tweeted. Grief hit hard, and even though the sun was shining over the harbor, my heart was not.
I snuggled my smiling baby, relieved to live where guns aren’t so easily accessible. Tears fell from my eyes, grateful to be surrounded by such innocence. My older son, age 5, has only now learned about guns. His classmates like to play army games, but my son thinks they’re just pretend. We recently had a discussion about them, explaining what they are, and what they do. I don’t think he got it, and I’m glad. If we lived in America, it would be different.
Every year on my birthday, I venture out to the Botanic Garden to sit among the tulips. How lucky am I that my birthday falls in the springtime down here, right when everything is in bloom? I couldn’t get there fast enough, every part of me longing to connect with nature. I found a spot to soak in the oranges, yellows, whites, reds, pinks, and dark purples. Still, something felt off. I couldn’t relax. Maybe if I were to lie down in their beds I’d feel better?
Instead, I moseyed by magnolias and found a bench past a sequoia, next to a brook. On the seat, a memorial inscription read a woman’s name that was now ‘dancing amongst the heavens’. I wondered about her, and if she had loved this particular spot. My grief reappeared when I thought how strange this part of her, a bench in the beauty, lived on even though she was gone.
A bird fluttered by, landing on a branch next to me. At first glance, I thought it was a fantail, but then noticed its bright red head. It was an Eastern Rosella parakeet, new to Aotearoa from Australia. I’ve seen a few outside my house, but never this close. Still, I ached. I just didn’t feel right. Among this light, I felt so dark.
Driving home, I stopped at Otari Wilton’s Bush, another one of my favorite gardens. I couldn’t go home feeling this way, on edge. I felt incomplete. I needed a sign that everything would be ok, a message from the gods that there’s a reason for the darkness, and that light would follow.
Clouds moved swiftly against the blue sky above my head. I sat on another memorial bench between the trees, and I thanked whose bench it was for holding my grief so I could focus on the light. But my mind didn’t want to rest. It was as if I’d forgotten how to relax. I couldn’t stop thinking about my children and what they needed, about Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, and Tom Petty. The list was endless. Scattered throughout the pretty, my mind only focused on ugly. I had to work hard to silence the noise, to ease the ache, and concentrate on the tūi birds performing a mating dance in front of me.
It worked. As one tūi called to the other, my eyes filled with tears. It was so simple. So innocent. So beautiful. They didn’t know what was happening in the world. My thoughts drifted back to my boys and their light. Maybe one day they’d bring a change to the world, maybe they’d spread joy, and love, instead of being angry white men.
As I left the garden for home, I remembered the goodness in the world. There is beauty in our fragility. There is depth, and there is growth. There is light. It’s still there.
It’s not going anywhere.