Volume 16, Issue 37 - September 11 - September 18, 2008

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Earth Journal by Gary Pendleton

Goldenrod Has Its Day

Like goldenrod, we thought there would be time

In Memory of Michelle Robbins Saunders

August 27, 1959 - August 25, 2008

In the fields, Queen Anne’s lace and black-eyed Susans are turning into dry stalks and seed heads. But goldenrod is in its glory. All summer long, it grew alongside the other flowers in the meadow. It held off until the waning days of the season to bloom.

Tall and strong, goldenrod is one tough native weed that is also lovely to look at. You might think that the goldenrod took all of the sunny days of summer and stored them up in green stems and leaves, just to put that color on display. It takes a lot to stand up to the brutal heat of summer, to the storms with pounding rain and hail. Storms come and go, but the goldenrod bounces back with grace.

Grace is a word I like to use to describe the way some people handle the most difficult situations. This brings me to what I really want to write about — even as I struggle to feel up to it.

Michelle Robbins Saunders passed away at the end of summer. She was a native of the Eastern Shore, tall with a gloriously sunny disposition. She handled the responsibilities of work, family and community with grace, dignity and love. I know that she was proud of her Maryland heritage and might have preferred comparisons to the black-eyed Susan. But I have been thinking about goldenrod, and the similarities are too striking to dismiss. I doubt she would complain. First, she would have liked the comparison; second, she was not a complainer.

I think I know that much about her. She was smart and funny; talented and hard-working; wife and mother; writer and editor. She was a gardener, and she knew her trees. It can’t be true that she was always smiling, but that is how I remember her, even through her bout with pancreatic cancer took her life just two days before her 49th birthday.

I don’t want to say that I wish I had seen her in a bad mood. But it makes me doubt how well I had gotten to know her. After hearing the testimonies that her close friends spoke to memorialize her, I know that anyone of them could have written a more complete remembrance. I knew her less than fully, but — and this is what I want to emphasize — I thought there would be time.

With three young children and a job in the city, Michelle was busy. My connection was through her husband Ray. Michelle would be with Jacob, Micheal and Maggie when Ray and I, along with the rest of our band RockFish, gathered to rehearse and perform. My wife Karyn and I looked forward to a day when we all would be able to spend more time together. We thought there would be time.

The days are getting shorter and the nights are turning cool. September is a time of change; you feel it deep inside. In the meadow, asters and goldenrod will hang on for a while and the trees will turn color. Fall is a beautiful time — but it is bittersweet with loss.

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