Lessons from a John Kennedy rose

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

I was in high school the day that President Kennedy was assassinated. Since we were taking a French class in a part of the school that was so new a telephone hadn't yet been installed, none of us knew for several hours.

I remember walking across campus after class with my friends and noticing that our usual good humor and fun, our usual wild shrieks and raucous laughter, suddenly seemed inappropriate - too loud. For me, that day was my first encounter with the "permanence" of death. It took me over a week to realize that John Kennedy wasn't coming back.

Since then, whenever teenagers have come to me with life-and-death questions, I've had to tell them, in all honesty, that I don't have all the answers. I tell them that I know in my heart that God, whom the Psalms in the Bible describe as "the Holy One of Israel," is eternal Life. The book of Genesis states that "God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (1:27). So I can accept the spiritual concept that this "man," who is both "male and female," must be as eternal as God.

But what comfort is this when a loved one's passing looks so final? Recently, I learned a valuable lesson from my John Kennedy rose.

Several years ago, I ordered three hybrid rosebushes from a gardening catalog. Each was named for a celebrity. The first summer, my Audrey Hepburn blessed me with two beautiful pale yellow roses tipped with peach. The Ink Spots rewarded me with three dark red, almost black, velvet-textured flowers. And my John Kennedy provided the most perfect, pure white rose I'd ever seen.

But over the past couple of years, the bushes hadn't thrived.

Early this spring, suspecting that the soil where I'd planted them was poor, I moved them. The Audrey Hepburn and the Ink Spots sprouted almost immediately in their new home, along with the bare-root roses I'd planted. But the John Kennedy continued to look very dead. For a month, all I could see was a mound of earth. Not even a single green shoot came up.

My father had passed away in February, and other sad circumstances added to my grief. One day, as I stood in my garden, the failure of the John Kennedy rose to thrive just looked like one more piece of evidence to counteract my trust that God was Life - to prove to me that I was wrong. I found myself weeping over that rose.

Then it occurred to me that I could either accept this evidence of the finality of death, or not. All around me, spring was providing a beautiful metaphor for the ongoing power of life. Everywhere I looked, I saw renewal, progress, and growth. Maybe I couldn't prove that death wasn't final, but at least one individual on this earth had, once. The Bible tells the story of the death and the subsequent resurrection of Jesus. The narrative suggests that because he knew God to be his very life, he was able to prove, tangibly, and for the practical benefit of others, that there is no death.

I also recalled that the woman who founded this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, commented on Jesus' demonstration: "His three days' work in the sepulchre set the seal of eternity on time. He proved Life to be deathless and Love to be the master of hate" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 44)

Comforted by these thoughts, I rejoiced in the absolutely wonderful life my dad had lived. He'd enriched my education with his stories. Each of his children had cherished him. He had left a spiritual legacy for many.

Now, leaning down close to my John Kennedy rose, I got to work. I roughed up the soil around it one more time, gave it some fertilizer, talked to it a bit.

More than a month later, when I checked my roses, I noticed that the John Kennedy had a tiny sprout. I congratulated it on its growth! Two more weeks went by, and then I saw two healthy shoots. They were flourishing with leaves.

I still may not have all the answers. But I do know that at least the possibility exists.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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