I met him as a new bride, days after celebrating our first anniversary and newly pregnant with our oldest daughter. Passing slowly, my heart and soul carried a flighty weight, a fullness of Florence and of wonder for Renaissance gowns and painted ceilings, fountains and grottos, an abundance of true love and new life, and of dreams I never even dared of dreaming. I walked down the stairs and he watched us enter the gardens. Our son scampered into the adventure. The lion’s gaze lingered on the awestruck young couple, holding hands, completely smitten with each other as we ascended the landscape before us . So many eternal “first times” he purred under his breath.
I passed him again with four children in tow. After a day of running through arbored paths and finding secret spaces, with ghosts of ancient children encircling us, we returned dusty to the palace. Our family climbed the stairs with healthy exhaustion, parents cajoling children to find the energy to discover what lay beyond. He watched us in our excited weariness. Entwined souls determined to share the beauty of European culture, trusting in the experience gaining value over time and simply living the truth of us. I paused and looked at him, such character in his eyes as I rose up those steps carrying another miracle inside me.
He recognized us, a group of almost all adults approaching him. We had filled ourselves again with the gardens, peonies and roses, statues and arbors. This time our “children” were old enough to take in the vast landscape of Florence on the horizon and to carry the memory we gave them all their lives. I paused on the familiar steps long enough to listen and to capture two images of my strong friend. In the first he’s a strong and courageous protector, in the second he looks at me with a deep feeling of melancholy.
I wondered about all the people that he’d ever seen, from the first until me. So many lives, so many stories pass by him. I wondered who made him, who created him, brought him to life? I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to go up the steps this time. I wanted to stay in silence. I wanted to stop time and feel all the stories of those who had passed his beautiful gaze, because in that moment I felt like they were all a part of my story in some mysterious way.
Moments like those are eternal, golden timeless moments in heaven, when your soul feels the Oneness and the Sacredness and the Wonder of being.
Four years later on Holy Saturday, in the in between, I sketched him, a Christ image. His tail unfurled on the page embellished with swirls of botanicals, whimsically sprouting florals inspired by embroidery I captured in Rome. In Venice’s Doges Palace Saint Catherine wears a beautiful crown as she ascends to her mysterious marriage to Christ. I took her crown and placed it on the Lion’s head, then spent hours lining his mane being captured by his knowing eye. Only now can I understand the significance of it all.
My beloved listened intently to me explain the inspirations and the meaning in the sketch.
That morning he had given me a Mother’s Day card, the last line which he wrote was,
“YOU ARE TRULY A WOMAN OF BEAUTY, CHARACTER AND STRENGTH- I LOVE YOU.”
His words went straight to my heart and soul where he intended them to, to encourage and remind me who he saw, who he knew I was.
Those were some of our last interactions on our last day together.
I have known he has wanted me to find assurance in his words, but trauma and grief have hidden, stolen and blurred my ability to grasp what he wrote for far too long.
Yet I know
My husband is a truth teller.
He always honored the sacredness of our lives and our love. I have learned with him that sainthood is a divine birthright crowning the mysteries of this life. Intimacy with the divine bestows a wordless majesty to our moments, in which our souls realize they are experiencing heaven on earth. We shared these countless heavenly moments througout our years together. Like golden threads twisted together, these moments continue to weave themselves into a rope that cannot be severed.
Our own unique story is full of beautiful flourishes deserving of space and dignity to unfurl on the pages of our lives. My beloved continues to teach me that strength of character often comes from being an honest listener, an empathetic observer of others, but first of self.
I believe I am ready to honor the intertwining of my beloved’s blessing and the divine creativity of my own soul, not because I have “arrived”, and not because”time has healed me.” But because with the passing of time, I have been able to clear some of the ugly chaos and trauma, release the unnecessary cruelty I endured, and unravel deceptive psychologies and philosophies. Like the sudden awakening of a forgotten childhood memory, I have found hidden truths that were already deep in my soul. I am beginning to reclaim what was stolen.
Though he is but stone and ink and ash, I hear clearly his gentle rumbling growl protecting our story, my heart and the truth.