At a bend in the wooded path, old growth oaks give way to acres of towering Spruce. Their vaulting trunks and wistful green canopy make this section feel like a cathedral. A place to whisper prayers. During winter, when few others hike the trails of Morton Arboretum, it’s especially hushed and reverent.
On my approach, something red catches attention. The whoosh of wind and the tree’s creaking response reminds me I’m alone here. Yet someone already visited. One red rose rests on the bench outside the Spruce Plot. The bench’s plaque reads…
I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places.
In everything my heart embraces.
The whole year through.
I‘ll be looking at the moon, but I’ll be seeing you.
I’ve never noticed this bench before, although the weathered wood indicates it’s been here a long time. The rose, however, is fresh. On this cold, cloudy day, someone walked here holding a delicate rose of remembrance. Seeing it cracks my heart and soul open and stirs it around.
How lovely to be so cherished.
That sentiment sticks with me as I continue walking. Near the trail’s end, another determined walker approaches. She moves briskly despite her advanced age. Ski-pole style walking sticks crunch into the ice-crusted snow to steady her. When I say hello, she lights with a smile. Eyes crinkle and beam. Her face folds into well-worn laugh lines, like the softened edges of an oft- used map.
I admire the embroidery on her grey wool coat. She cackle-laughs loudly.
“This was my mother’s coat!” she bellows. “I love it! It’s so old!”
Her voice fills the surrounding woods. Nearby sparrows stop chirping, startled by the exuberant outburst.
“I added new trim to fancy it up,” she adds conspiratorially. Then she throws her head back and shouts up to the trees, “I can’t get rid of it! It was my mother’s coat and it’s so warm! I love it!”
We laugh together and she hobbles away. Given the age of the woman currently wearing it, I wonder, how old is this coat? This coat her mother wore that still provides such warmth?
For the second time today, questions surface. The rose. The bench. The coat. The cold. They stirred my heart.
Once again, the quiet woods connected me to the deeper story; the story I understand with my heart, not my mind. Today it reminded me:
Love transcends everything.
It’s timeless and everlasting. Like names etched into concrete or thumbprints pressed into softened wax, love’s imprint remains long after the giver has gone.
It doesn’t matter how long ago we loved. The love remains. It’s present and available. A loved one’s fingerprints stick to our hearts where they touched us. Indelibly carved. Artfully tattooed. Forever.
A walk on a favorite wooded trail, a delicate rose on a frigid day, a favorite lyric on a commemorative bench or a well-worn coat filled with generations of warmth. It doesn’t matter which vehicle transports us to the heart. What matters is that we feel it. What matters is that we recognize love built a cathedral in all of our hearts, and it’s open to us whenever and however we choose to visit.