Bittersweet

One of the treasures of the fall is the bittersweet plant with its clusters of bright orange pods. 
In the past when we roamed country roads at this time of the year, we have been on the look-out for bittersweet vines entwined around roadside vegetation. How triumphant we felt if we found some.

One year when we were still living at Sweetwater Farm a friend who lived at the base of a mountain in Pennsylvania sent me a large box full of bittersweet she had harvested on her property, and I swagged it along the white picket fence from the driveway to the backdoor. Such lavishness! Such luxury, especially since bittersweet is quite expensive to buy in nurseries or other stores.

Another year neighbors invited us to go with them to an area where bittersweet grew in abundance. The owner of the property had given permission to cut as much as we wanted. I suspect he thought we were all a bit crazy as we filled the back of the Jeep.

I no longer have to scrounge country roads hoping to find this fall treat, however, for a couple years ago my husband planted bittersweet in our backyard, and how delighted I was this year to cut the scraggly branches and fill containers with clusters of the orange berries.

I welcomed their beauty as one more signal of the transition from one season to another, but on the other hand how could I ignore the implication of the name itself? Bittersweet.

Bittersweet

Bitter Sweet

The mix of bitter and sweet.

Sometimes this stage of my life –elderhood– feels like a mix of bitter and sweet.

On the one hand I relish the freedom and flexibility of this age. For the most part I decide how to use my time and energy. But on the other hand I look back and see how time has passed so quickly. How is it possible that I am in my 70’s and our kids in their 40’s! And as for my energy–well, I still am able to do a lot in one day, but more and more I need to pay attention to how I use my energy.

I treasure all the gifts of my life, but at the same time I wonder how well I have lived those gifts–shared them, developed them, honored them. Some days I delight in the memories and stories of earlier years and other days I feel the gloom of regret. The echoes of what I should have done, could have done.

How grateful I am for the love woven throughout my life. So many cherished relationships, but now is also the time of loss. In this last year how many times have I tucked a vintage handkerchief into a sympathy card and written words I hope bring some comfort and connection?

Bitter. Sweet.

Joan Chittister refers to the bitter and the sweet of this stage of life as blessings and burdens. Both are present. Both are real. Both need to be acknowledged. Here’s what she has to say about the blessings and burdens of regret, for example, in her book The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully.

The burden of regret is that, unless we come to understand the value of the choices we made in the past, we may fail to see the gifts they have brought us.

The blessing of regret is clear–it brings us, if we are willing to face it head on, to the point of being present to this new time of life in an entirely new way. It urges us on to continue becoming. (p. 5)

Bitter. Sweet.

Shadow and Light.

Or as our thirteen year old grandson Peter said when I asked him after his sister left for freshman year of college what it was like to be the only kid in the house, “The good news is I am the only kid. The bad news is I am the only kid.”

Bitter. Sweet.

Shadow and Light.

Blessing and Burden.

Yes.

An Invitation: How do you experience the presence of the bitter and the sweet in your life? I would love to know.

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