From Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul

A Joy Forever

Every season brings its own joy.

Spanish Proverb

John Keats wrote, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Perennial, enduring love is a thing of beauty, rather like a rose can be.

Every time I catch the scent of a rose, I think of enduring love. Being a freelance journalist, years ago I had the pleasure of interviewing an elderly man. James Charlet had an interesting story, beginning two decades earlier when he lost his beloved wife, who been a great lover of roses.

So deep was his grief when she died, so enduring was his love, that he asked his church if he could plant roses by the church walkway in his wife’s memory. Of course, the priest there said yes.

James started with a few rose bushes. He planted lovely pinks, deep yellows and fragrant reds with names like “Yesterday” and “Golden Chersonese” and “Chrysler Imperial.” The roses grew and flourished under his never-ending care, for he also had retired and had a great deal of time on his hands.

He told me that those few roses didn’t seem to be enough; they were insufficient to fully express his love for his wife. He asked the priest if he could plant some more roses; again, the priest said yes.

James planted some different kinds of roses this time: rare burgundies and hard-to-find violet roses, silver roses and hybrid roses created in the memory of others. Roses with names like “The Doctor” and “Alba Celeste” and “Honorable Lady Lindsay.”

Still he was dissatisfied with what he called a paltry outward show of his inner feelings. He again approached the priest, asking if he could use part of the vacant lot next to the church that the church owned. Again, he was told yes.

James planted more roses and then went on to plant roses by the sidewalks up and down and around the entire city block, surrounding the church and grounds. Roses with names like “Red Meidiland” and “Trumpeter” and “Pikes Peak.”

Now, rose bushes numbering in the hundreds are everywhere; the scent of them fills the air, the pied blooms catch the eye and blossoms float on the breeze along with the laughter of the children playing in the church playground. Couples strolling along downtown walk past the roses and instinctively take each other’s hand. The altar-guild ladies cut great, fragrant bouquets of roses to decorate the church and altar, filling the interior with the color and perfume of love.

Decades after he began his project to honor his wife’s memory, and years after I interviewed him about what he had done, James and I visited that rose garden one afternoon. The roses are tended now by someone hired by the church, as James is no longer able to care for them himself. So old and feeble is he now that his nurse and I half-carried him to the garden, helping him settle in his wheelchair in the midst of the blossoms. We sat under an arbor, one of his favorite places to sit in the hot summers when he’d been more vigorous.

I sat with him there in companionable silence, among the scent of a myriad of rose blossoms. What was it that kept his love going inside him? What did the two of them have, even after one of them had died, that so many of us spend our lives desperately seeking?

It occurred to me then that some people are like prisms: Anyone with a light in them can be near that person and have their light refracted into many different colors, like the colors of the roses around us. Prisms by themselves cannot make light, and light by itself cannot divide into the lovely colors of the rainbow. James Charlet’s wife must have been like a prism, being there to magnify and refract her husband’s light. He made her complete because she completed him. I thought at that moment how she must be smiling upon him, seeing all these gifts he had planted for her.

As I took his thin, old hand and saw him smile at me— a bit sadly, in spite of the lovely midsummer day—I found myself hoping that the love I have found is less ethereal than the scent of a rose, that it can endure as James’s love has.

To nurture this love so it can endure throughout all our lives, even through the infirmities old age may bring, to care for one another and love one another even beyond the boundary that separates this existence from the next is my hope. Perhaps our love can remain as strong and as sweet as the roses that have endured and bloomed all these years, and be a thing of beauty, a joy forever.

T. Jensen Lacey

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