In the early days after my husband, Randy, died, I found myself checking a status box on a form, to indicate my marital status. There, for the first time since it happened, I saw the dreaded word: Widow.
My reaction to the word was swift and visceral. It jarred me to my core. I felt the stab of the pointy “W’s” on either end, and the huge expanse of emptiness in its gaping holes in the “d” and the “o” in the middle. Widow? My head was spinning. What?! I am now a widow??
Today, I was going through the journal I’ve been keeping with some of my notes and scribblings that will someday be a book about my loss and journey in grief. At the end of the page with my most recent notes was the word, “Widow,” followed by the word, “Window.” I honestly don’t even remember writing this.
And I saw that all that differentiates these words from each other is the letter “n.”
As I considered this, an image of a red bridge immediately came to mind. Last week, when a dear friend who lives in another city came to visit, we went to a Japanese garden that is near my home. In the many years I’ve lived here, for one reason or another, I have never been there, but have always wanted to see it. The garden did not disappoint; resplendent in its early-spring bloomings; offering a place of beauty and tranquility in the middle of a not-so-safe neighborhood.
As in many Japanese (and Chinese) gardens, there were lovely ponds; two of which with arching red bridges carrying us from one side to the other. The first of the bridges was quite short, but also quite curved — so much so that, on the rainy day of our visit, I held on to its railings as I crossed it, so as not to slip on the steep arch.
The red bridge was shaped as an arch — like the one in the letter, “n.”
Widow. Window. The “n” smack-dab in the middle.
A red bridge in a Japanese garden is called a Guzei and is laden with symbolism. Bridges, in Japanese gardens, represent a crossing from the physical to the spiritual, and offer a way of transformation toward a place of wisdom.
The color red also represents a notion of the sacred, as well as wisdom and transformation.
A red bridge, then, offers a double-dose of these concepts; entwined with the Zen concept of preserving the life force, rejecting attachment to the physical and coming to a place of true discernment. A double-dose of positive growth and spiritual transformation.
In my journey as a widow, I realized, I’ve crossed many metaphorical red bridges; offering a window, an opening, into something far beyond the small borders of the box I checked on that form, indicating my new marital status.
A new identity, yes. And maybe in the process of crossing, I had to hang on for dear life. But in that often-steep and foreboding transformation, what I have ever-so-slowly discovered, is an opening to more of the garden that was, and is, my life. And, there is beauty on the other side.
I marvel at how God moves and works in our lives. It is no coincidence that we crossed that red, “n-shaped” bridge just days before I revisited my journal notes about the word, Widow.
Oh! The kind and gentle way that God safely carries us to the next beautiful vista of our own life when we can, even in pain and uncertainty, trust the process of transformation.