A “Sunny” Day
“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. Thank You.” ~ Marcel Proust
We moved to Washington state about 8 months ago. We were attracted to a home with a magnificent garden space and a backyard that leads to a lake and forest teeming with various wildlife. We were especially blessed to discover our new neighbors, a lovely couple retired from 24 years of service in the military, shared our passion for gardening and the outdoors. Just days after moving in, I found myself absorbed in my new garden. It is here where I experienced my first rays of sunshine after leaving our beloved island home in Kailua, Hawai’i.
I first met Sunny Smith from across the garden. That first meeting led to countless conversations across colorful blossoms. Not long after she introduced herself, she cut the most exquisite flowers from her garden and brought over a lovely bouquet. It was such a simple and beautiful way of saying “welcome to the neighborhood.” I quickly learned that sharing the blessings of her garden was a way of life, not just a welcoming gesture, for Sunny. Just when that bouquet of flowers was beginning to wilt, she’d was over with another arrangement in a vintage container. She had a collection of unique vases that she found at yard sales – perfect for sharing garden blessings and her artful way of living. We’ve also been the recipients of fresh-picked blue berries, herbs, salad greens, and pumpkins. As the weather cooled and the garden slept, we were continually blessed with cookies, cobblers and homemade soups. On at least two occasions, she brought over house plants for us, and said, “You will need them to survive being indoors for the winter here.” (She was right). Even when the grey skies rolled in, Sunny always provided endless rays of Light.
My dear friend and neighbor, Sunny Kumson Smith, suddenly passed away at the age of 54 while cruising the Caribbean with her beloved husband. Her death is not only shocking but unexplainable. This sweet couple intended for a month-long voyage of sun and sea, but their trip came to a tragic end far too quickly. Ironically, they came to port in the Bahamas just two weeks before I would take a small boat from that same port over to the Sivananda Ashram. I never expected our corresponding trips to the Caribbean would be my last brush with this vibrant soul.
I arrived back to Washington on Easter Sunday. Sunny’s memorial service had already occurred. Her family from Korea had departed. My first order of business was to pick a bouquet of daffodils from our yard to take over to her husband and two adult children. Yesterday, my husband and I found ourselves in the backyard, talking with Sunny’s husband, son, and daughter across our neighboring gardens. We cried, laughed, questioned, and mostly remembered.
Every now and then a soul enters your life, if only for a brief time, to bring Light to your world. Sunny did that for me at a time when I felt very uprooted from a life I so loved. Being a military spouse herself, she certainly knew how I was feeling in those first weeks. She was a person that seemed to see through to my very core, illuminating the parts of me that are essential to my being. She was the sunshine for a seed that desperately needed to take root and grow. A month or so after meeting me, she came over with a very special offering- gifts I will now treasure forever. She brought me a unique Korean garden hoe tied with a pretty bow and colorful garden gloves as well as two special stones. One of these stones is by my garden fountain and the other is inside my home in a special place. For those that know me well, you know that a garden hoe and sacred rocks are like priceless treasures to me. How is it that a person who knew me for such a short time quickly grew to know me so well?
The last few days tears have streamed down my face as I look out into Sunny’s garden knowing that we won’t be sharing seeds anymore. I can’t even fathom how her family must feel, still shocked by the sudden loss. At the same time, there is this great peace that washes over me as I know she will forever be in that garden. Yesterday was a surprisingly beautiful and Sunny day. My family and I had dinner on the patio in fact. After dinner, my children were particularly jovial and loud, basking in the rising temperatures of Spring. I glanced across our garden and realized that Sunny’s husband and two children where having a extraordinary moment together. As my boys were frolicking nearby, they were spreading Sunny’s ashes among her newly budding flowers with the most sacred simplicity and grace. For a moment, I thought I should silence the boys. Then I realized there was astounding beauty in the dynamic dance of children gleefully discovering new growth in our garden and the silent act of them saying goodbye to Sunny’s physical body and hello to her Sacred and Enduring Presence among her and her husband’s beautiful garden.
My family and I knew Sunny for less than a year, but she left a lifetime of lessons and gifts to us all. I spent much of yesterday and today with my special Korean hoe in hand, clearing out new space in my garden. I am still deciding what to plant on this Sunny end of our garden. I hope she will whisper some ideas in my ear.
The loss of Sunny stimulated sadness we’ve felt over the death of my mother-in-law who died at age 60 this past summer. Not long after her death, we lost Micah at age 19, our next-door neighbor in Kailua. It’s hard to understand why these bright souls departed us so soon. We could spend a lifetime asking why, but in the meantime, there are still gardens to tend and lives to be lived. In tending our own garden, amid both tears and joy, sacred truths are revealed and hearts are slowly, if only slightly, healed. Loved ones are forever remembered for their beauty as they walked this earth and for the eternal radiance they now embody.
The only thing that is really certain in life is the inevitability of change. In these turbulent times, we might unexpectedly find a river of sadness as we venture down our path. We are not always afforded a lofty bridge to cross over it. When we find ourselves face to face with a river of grief, we musts allow ourselves to swim in the sadness if we want to reach the outer bank that leads on to the journey ahead. At the same time, we must be wary of not drowning in despair, holding onto GRATITUDE as our life-preserver as we cross the rough waters.
In his book “The Prophet,” Kahlil Gibran reminds us to be appreciative for both the joy and sorrow of our lives. He says, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain….When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” And so it is with the grey Washington skies that came again today. My dismay is heightened only because the day before it was so very Sunny.
I offer my deep love and never-ending gratitude to Sunny and all the “charming gardeners” who’ve made my soul bloom thus far. I’m not entirely sure where my journey will lead, but in a vast garden of fertile soul, you’ve inspired me to dig up and discard what feels uninspiring and plant only that which brings me the greatest joy. Amidst the sadness of the past few couple of days, I’ve already started preparing the Sunny-side of our garden for what will surely be summer blessings to enjoy and pass on.