We will change time this week to set the clock back an hour. (This, here happens two weeks later than the rest of the world because We. Will. Not. Conform.) It’s not only the time that is changing. The sun is rising earlier. A few weeks ago the mango trees all lost their flowers. Now it sounds kind of romantic to have everything covered with mango flowers—it wasn’t. The sharp winds stripped off the dried buds and scattered them all over our sidewalks and floors and laundry. They settled like little dry spiders on every surface. Micah crawled after them, pinching at them with his chubby fingers and I’d scramble after him so he wouldn’t eat them. All around us was the scratch, scratch of brooms, a neighbourhood sweeping, sweeping. Then from the flowers’ place sprung green balls like marbles. They inflated like balloons, warping, curving as if to protect the pit of them the way an embryo does, curled around its heart and guts.
And yet, for as many mangoes are growing, there seem to be as many falling. Little green “baby” mangoes (as Lucas calls them) scattered over the walkways and on the staircase leading up to the roof where we hang our laundry. These fallen mangoes gather in little groups, some of them the size of the pits of plums, others like walnuts still in their shell, others just big enough to cup perfectly in the hollow of your hand. They smell like mangoes at the base with a top note of pine, perhaps the sap that glistens, congealed on the little stub of stem. A handful of them all at once smells earthy and spicy and sweet—delightful.
But I can’t help but feel a little sad; it seems such a waste. I can spread them out in the sun, hoping they’ll ripen but to split them open is to find the beginnings of a chocolate coloured pit surrounded by hard, bitter flesh. They will eventually wrinkle and blacken and rot.
I shield my eyes from the midday sun and study the tree. I am surprised to see that already the mangoes there have swollen to the size of navel oranges. Some are catching a purple hue on their outside edge which will soften to red. The green will brighten as they grow and ripen and the flesh will soften sweetly.
These mangoes got me thinking. How often do we face the strong winds of life with sadness and stoop to collect handfuls of baby green mangoes? We mourn for what they’ll never be all the while missing what is growing right above our heads.
The reality is that some things flower and wither and scatter like dried little spiders crunching and swirling. These are the things that die to make way for the real growth. We may lament the lack of beauty in the blossoms unless we realize their purpose is to prepare the way for something else. These may be the menial tasks or the relationships and routines that could adorn but have shriveled and seem to cause more work then anything.
Then there are the things that really are mangoes. Some look right. They have the right shape, the right smell. They even have sap to them. But come a strong wind or a weak branch or an agile cat and they fall. They fall with a pling and a few quick thumps onto the roof with a rustling, rolling crash into the plants. A bird chirps and a truck rumbles down the street. Two blocks over I hear the whistle and shout Panadero! the bread man with his cart of crusty French bread, Panadero! It fell and the world moved on.
Of course it did.
Yet I grieve sometimes for the things that blossom with less beauty than I hoped, the things that dry and scatter. I grieve for the things that sprout. The things that smelled right and looked right and fell anyway. I grieve for what should have been sweet and was bitter instead, the things that could have nourished but were black on the inside. I grieve the sweet things and the beautiful things that were apparently not to be. They fell. And the world moved on.
It is okay to grieve these things that could have been—the relationships that broke up, the job that didn’t materialize, the baby that wasn’t born, the sickness that gets in the way of what we really want to do, or on a smaller scale: that word that stabbed, that day off that didn’t refresh, that moment we can’t get back. Things that didn’t turn out how we thought they should. We feel sad for those little mangoes that could have been. No matter how big or small, they fell.
Then we sweep them up because scattered in the walkways and stairways of our daily living they become treacherous. They wrinkle and pucker and reek, tripping us up as if we accidentally stepped into a room full of marbles.
So we scoop them up and put them back into the soil from where they sprung. That way, the things that weren’t to be feed what’s yet to come.
But in these gentle acts of grieving the fallen, the unripe, the dry, the nots, and in the reaching-broom-handles-into-dark-corners kind of soul cleaning, we squint up into the bright mid-morning sun and start to count. Lift your eyes! Count what is growing, what is juicy and sweet! Watch the things that are ripening, ripening even now. It’s enough to make your mouth water.