When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
~ Robert Frost
“Of course I said blue sock because blue is my favourite colour. Duh.” He said mattarfactly, his tone a playful annoyance.
The voice is clear, spoken without hesitation, the emphasis on duh. Although I don’t see it, I can sense his eyes rolling in exasperation. He is shaking his head, the look on his face saying “don’t you get it?” It’s simple. Really that simple.”
July 17th marked one year since my cousin’s son passed away. In celebration of this beautiful nine year old, I took my girls to see Despicable M3 (Despicable Me was his favourite movie). After the movie, we bought three blue balloons and released them from a blue bridge. As we watched them float into the sky along with our prayers and blessings, tears rolled down my cheeks. Thinking of Matteo, how he touched so many and how he could be gone from this world was overwhelming. On our drive home we listened to one of his favourite songs by Lady Gaga.
Earlier in the day I was lacing up my trail shoes and deciding where to run. When I woke that morning I immediately felt I needed to go to Terwillegar Park. However, I only had one hour to run and with the time I would spend driving, it was not practical. Besides, I live steps from the Aspen Forest where amazing trails abound. Without hesitation, I laced up my shoes and grabbed my keys knowing I was to go to Terwillegar.
When Matteo was in hospice last summer, I turned to nature for healing. I walked, meditated and ran through the birch trees in Terwillegar Park. My grief flowed, I questioned life, I cried and when the tears stopped I moved. After my last visit with Matteo, I was walking in the back of the park where I came upon a grove of birch, standing tall and sturdy. I immediately felt embraced in the presence of something powerful.
Moved deeply by the experience I wrote about it in my blog titled “So I Once Myself Was A Swinger of Birches.” As I was writing I stumbled across the poem Birches by Robert Frost. It strongly resonated and I added an excerpt to my blog. I posted it five days before Matteo passed. One year later on the anniversary of his passing, discovering that poem would prove to be more serendipitous than I could ever have imagined.
That morning I drove to Terwillegar not sure why I felt compelled to go there. I was running a favourite section off the main trail descending down single track to the river when I came across sheets of paper sprawled on the forest floor. Rather than being frustrated (I often pick up garbage laying on the ground to discard) I was intrigued. I stopped running and had a closer look.
One particular page, separated from the rest, stood out. Torn on the side, the bottom crumpled, it had words splashed in pencil and typewritten on it was a poem. Drawn to this one page, I curiously studied it, pondered for a moment what it meant - feeling it was a sign, however, not sure what the message was, I filed it in my mind and made a promise to return to pick up the sheets of paper when I had my running pack.
Later that afternoon I realized the significance of what I found on the forest floor. Matteo’s parents were about to start a service in his memory. Holding them in my heart, I sent them a message of blessings and love. Seconds later, I was suddenly hit with the realization the poem I found in the Terwillegar forest that morning was Birches by Robert Frost, the same poem I discovered one year ago when Matteo was dying. Feeling an incredible surge of energy, I sent Matteo’s parents an excerpt of the poem and texted “Ok, I was just given a message.”
Then I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and silently asked “Matteo, I got your sign. What is it that you want me to know?”
“…I am with them. I am ok.”
“Ok.” I whisper.
“MORE than ok.” he shot back.
There seemed to be no words in the human vocabulary that could come close to describe the space he was in. I stopped for a moment, before I asked one more question.
“Matteo, how do I know it is you? Give me a sign.”
“A blue sock” was his immediate response.
At that point my mind intervened and questions streamed like a movie reel. A blue sock? What do you mean? Blue socks? What kind? Do they have a pattern? Something you gave your dad? And the conversation was over as quickly as it began. My mind could not understand how a blue sock could be a sign. I brushed it off, deeming it irrelevant. I knew finding the poem that day on the forest floor was Matteo’s sign and it was all I needed.
Two days later I shared the story with Matteo’s mom. I recounted every detail, not wanting to forget anything. However, when it came time to share what I received from Matteo and his “sign” I mentioned the blue sock more as an afterthought than something important. I was hopeful she would realize the significance of finding the poem without needing evidence.
Immediately upon telling her about the sock, she gasped. “Janelle, you left a blue sock here last weekend.”
“A blue sock?” “One blue sock?” “A blue sock?” I questioned almost in disbelief.
“Yes. A blue sock. I just washed it, folded and put it in my laundry basket wondering what do with it.” She said her voice cracking.
Silence followed. There were no words for this moment.
“He knew that. Matteo knew that.” I finally responded somewhat incredulous.
We paused again to take in the power of what just occurred. Tears began to flow. We laughed at the miracle of it. And we cried together. She shared the blue sock was the clincher for her. It was the sign she needed.
Up in his World, Matteo knew I would be spending time with his parents the week before. And he knew I left a blue sock. He loved to tease his family, especially his mom, who herself is a jokester. Most likely, Matteo influenced his dog Ramon to grab the sock, knowing full well what was about to occur.
Along with his sense of humour, Matteo drew people together; he easily captivated the attention of others. And on the one year anniversary of his passing into the Spirit World, was no different. As his family and friends were gathering together in celebration of his memory, he not only made sure to be there (he loved family gatherings) but to find a way to let his parents know.
Like the birch that carry such ancient wisdom, yet seem so young, Matteo’s strong, wise and playful spirit was reaching out to tell us and his parents “we’re all around, from root to leaf, from atom to star, we’re here.”
And “I am with you.”
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped it’s top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than a swinger of birches.
~ Robert Frost