One day a woman lost a baby.
The baby had not yet grown past the size of a large pea but already the woman loved it.
The woman wasn’t even sure she wanted a baby, now, so many years after her first and only child, but still she loved it and, yes, of course she wanted it.
So it was that tears began to fall when the blood began to flow. The woman carried body-memory, three times over, of this futile waste, this unceremonious loss of life that was destined to be quite literally flushed down the drain, as if it had never existed, never been loved.
But this time the kind universe gave her a special gift: the tiny pea baby fell into her hand.
And it was real. And perfect. And precious.
The woman named the baby Zoe – meaning Life, True Life, a quality of Life not a quantity – because she had dreamt some three months earlier that she had given birth too soon, too easily, to a baby too small but so perfect; and the baby in the dream was called Zoe, and she had marvelled that this baby was named after Life itself. Though in the dream the woman had protested that this baby had come too soon, the midwife had reassured her that it was just in time. And then the woman had realised that, without planning it, her family had moved house just in time and made space to welcome this new Life to come and live with them.
So the precious pea baby was Zoe.
The woman carefully wrapped Zoe up and vowed to bury her one day under a tree she would plant.
Many tears fell those first weeks. But the tears were good. They were love and tenderness and desire, softening and opening and awakening. They were the water for a seed-bed of hope and joy and compassion. They were Life coming – yes, even through death, loss and grief. They were Zoe coming to live first of all in the house of the woman’s own soul.
The woman’s mother wrote from the well of her own love and tears and said, “Who’s to say eight weeks is not a whole lifetime of loving and being loved?” And it was true – real Life is quality not quantity. And real Life is Love.
As weeks turned to months the tears dried up, and that was good too. Gratitude came on the back of grief, love from loss, joy out of sorrow. So Life did come and live with the little family.
Twelve months went by and no tree had yet been planted for Zoe. The woman loved silver birches and she thought at times of planting one of these. But then – twelve months plus another three – she saw a weeping pussy willow sapling and she loved it. And her precious firstborn daughter heard and remembered, and bought it for the woman for her birthday.
This was the perfect tree for Zoe. It was small too, but perfect, beautiful. And it was weeping too, as the woman had, but the tear-branches were life and beauty and strength.
At first the tree waited inside, and then outside, while everyone discussed where it should be planted, and this was harder to decide than they expected. It needed lots of sun so some of the suggested spots were unsuitable, and everyone agreed that it would be a shame to plant such a pretty tree too far from the house. Finally, the woman’s husband suggested a spot at the front of the house next to the patch of flaming orange day lilies and it was agreed that this would be the perfect place.
But before they got the tree in the ground, they noticed that all the leaves on its lower weeping branches had turned grey and had died, and that the dying seemed to be spreading.
They hurried to dig a hole so that the tree’s roots could be given new space and soil and water in its new home-place, but even as they did so they feared it was too late, that they had waited too long. The woman’s husband dug and the woman weeded and cleared, and it was rushed and unceremonious, and the woman threw in what was left of Zoe just before the tree went in the hole, with a quick word of explanation to her husband and with a sense of dread about the fate of the tree, which she tried to cover up by feigning nonchalance.
But she didn’t feel nonchalant at all. She felt afraid and guilty; resentful that this tree had become symbolic enough for her to care about; expectant of the worst; and unhappily resigned to a fate of not being able to keep anything alive – not Zoe, not even her tree. The dying of the tree represented everything she feared about herself and about life: that really, truly, Life does not come out of death, nor beauty from ashes, love from hate. There is so much to regret, so much to fear! How is it even possible to welcome Life in the midst of all this mess, all this death and dying?!
One night, all this tumbled out on a river of tears with the woman’s wiser, older friend. And the tears and the compassionate listening softened again those places hardened by fear and disappointment, and awakened again those plantings of desire and hope.
So the woman dared to stop feigning nonchalance – because, really, how and when can you welcome Life if not in the midst of all this mess? – and dared to hope that the tree had been planted just in time. She touched the tree with love while she watered it. She spoke with the Great Life-Giver and she spoke to Zoe and she asked the tree to, please, grow.
She told her young daughter how afraid she was that the tree was not going to live, and she asked whether the daughter would speak tenderly to it as she had. The daughter coaxed and sang, and then suggested they name the tree; so the woman decided to tell her for the first time about Zoe.
Then together they made a decision that the tree should be called, simply, Zoe-Tree.
There were days of anxiety over Zoe-Tree; and perhaps there are more to come, because surely there are no guarantees in this world. But a nurse of people and plants gave reassurance that some loss is a natural part of transplanting (death a part of new life?!), and she urged the woman to wait and hope. And though the dead leaves remained below, tiny buds and then the bright green of tender new leaves began to appear on higher branches, so that one day the woman dared to pinch off the dead leaves, leaving only what is alive.
Now Zoe-Tree stands with the orange beauty in full flame behind her, growing and thriving full-green herself, a stone’s throw from the house, the first sight to greet each visitor. She is nourished both by soil, water, sun, and by love, tears, and vulnerable hopes. She holds death in her roots, and dying marks her weeping branches. But she is alive.
One day, she greets the woman and her daughter as they return to the House Where Life is Welcome, and the daughter remarks:
“Zoe-Tree is doing well.”
And she is. In spite of it all, and perhaps because of it all, she is.