I don’t even know what I was doing when I burst into tears. I was busying myself with yet another task that needed to be done right then. Maybe I was washing the dishes that inevitably pile up in the sink. I swear, no one else was in the kitchen when I washed the last one and another cup appeared out of thin air. Perhaps I was sweeping the crumbs off the kitchen floor – again. All I know is I was frantically cleaning so I could get to the other endless tasks waiting for me – writing deadlines, bills to pay, or emails to answer.
In an effort to get it all done I was rushing around the kitchen when the scent of Georgia summer invaded my senses. I stopped near the bowl of gardenias I had brought into the house earlier that day.
If you haven’t lived below the Mason-Dixon line, you won’t understand how the aroma of this flower signals the coming of summer in the mind of a child of the South. The Gardenia is a staple of the southern garden. The plant itself is a bush, it’s leathery leaves shiny and thick. One day there will be tight green buds, nothing more than the promise of a flower waiting to unfurl. The very next day there is an explosion of white, the smell of the Cape Jasmine flowers thick in the air.
When I was growing up we would find the biggest white blossoms, the velvety soft petals — thicker and smoother than the rose and more fragrant than even the honeysuckle that grew wild in the woods — and pluck them from the bush outside our back door. We would place a bowl full of the blooms floating in water somewhere in our house. Before the thermometer reached 100, before we broke out the bathing suits and sprinklers — this scent floating gently through the house told us summer had arrived.
That night in all of my busyness, the captivating aroma caught in the air for a moment and took me back in time. All at once the memories of so many summer nights spent on the back porch came flooding in. I would sit for hours talking on the phone (yes, the kind that you actually had to dial a real number to call and that either had a chord or a battery that would beep incessantly if the cordless phone had been away from the base too long).
I can’t tell you what drama was unfolding on any given night as there were so many — from friend to boy dramas, school or parent problems. But it always seemed like the problem of the hour meant the world as we knew it caving in on us. Everything seemed to be life or death, so urgent. I think now, with regret, how I missed so many little moments caught up in all the things that never really mattered at all.
And here I am — years later and supposedly so much wiser. I am doing it all again. That pile of dishes has to be conquered or I will go insane. If I don’t meet that deadline my writing career will certainly come crashing down all around me. The lie of scarcity says there is never enough time. I must get it all done – today!
Meanwhile, the love of my life — the one I could only have dreamed of as the boy-crazy, headstrong teen that I was back then — he is sitting in the other room, waiting for just a few minutes with me before the day ends. My two little ones are upstairs sleeping peacefully, replicas of another child that wanted nothing more than to catch just some fireflies in a mason jar before summer’s end.
I can teach them the joys of a Georgia summer – of gardenia blooms and fireworks set against the backdrop of Stone Mountain, of whippoorwill calls and rootbeer floats. Or I can miss it all by being caught up in all the tasks marking up my overly full agenda, even the necessary and good things that distract me from what really matters.
The sobs caught in my chest and I dropped what I was doing in the kitchen and, before I knew it, I was sitting on my front porch surrounded by gardenia blossoms. Some were in full-bloom and others were waiting to spring into the world tomorrow. The clean, tropical smell mixed with the humid night air and enveloped me like the sultry voice of Billie Holiday, who used to wear a gardenia in her hair whenever she performed. I don’t know how long I sat out there, stroking the velvety side of a flower until I had rubbed a hole in the petal. Memory mixed with prayer, tears with laughter.
I walked back inside as I begged God to help me not miss a single moment of this summer, to help me let go of the urgency that can crowd out the things that are the most important and that can so easily float away like the smell of the gardenias that will have died off in a few weeks. My blog will still be here when fall comes. I can hit tumble on the dryer one more time and fold those clothes tomorrow.
The summer she is seven will only come once. His head nestled into my neck, the way it was the other night when he fell asleep before the fireworks were over — it won’t fit there for too much longer. God can’t teach me the lessons of this summer next winter when I decide to slow down and listen. He can only whisper them to me on the winds of these fleeting months.
Every night since that moment on the porch, even if it is for just a moment, I make my way back out to the gardenia bushes. I stand there and pluck off a few white beauties, making sure there are a few blooms placed around the house. I keep the scent floating through the air while there are still gardenias blooming. I know I’ll turn around tomorrow and they will be gone. I don’t want to miss it.
You won’t see me writing here as much in these summer months. My blog is one place I will be slowing down for summer. My social media feeds will probably be a little quieter. I hope you’re still reading my words when the weather turns a little cooler this year. If you’re not, that’s okay. My kids won’t have missed sparklers and fireflies, lemonade and swimming pools. I will have taken extra time for reading, for a date night or two, and for afternoons in the hammock. I hope I will have learned more about abiding, about silence and about listening for that still, small voice that I starting writing to find in the beginning anyway.
I still have deadlines to keep, so you will still see my words here this summer. But I hope you will see a less hurried, more faithful version of me in the fall. I hope you stick around to find out…