For me, the honeysuckle does it. Out walking the dog, I pass through that place behind the apartment building where the vine-covered shrubs form a loose fence line with the neighboring townhouses. There, the scent lifts me up from whatever chaos is in my head. I pause and find one underneath, going for the yellow blossom. While the fulsome white catch the eye, I’ve learned from experience. The yellowed, crepey petals store astonishing sweetness.
I remove it from the stem. Pinching ever so slightly above the green bulb at the base, I free the thread inside. A single tendril slides out bringing with it that tiny drop of dew. I hold the jewel to my tongue. It fills my throat, my nose, behind my eyes. The perfume becomes everything, the nectar a sweetlight waking dream.
Everyone has a version of honeysuckle. Even if we can’t quite call it up, each of us has a precious lift, the pleasure, such an easy thing. It might be the sound of a screen door slamming, or first frost lacing the grass. It carries us back to some uncomplicated version of ourselves while also ferrying us up and out. The edges fall away.
I have always appreciated the way honeysuckle shows up on fences and along highways, climbing into the sun. But it is only lately, in this chapter they are calling Midlife, that the flower has become a kind of chalice in this sacred spring ritual.
I wonder what my son’s honeysuckle will be. Now he stays up an hour past bedtime tracing the letters from his Magic the Gathering card on his wall. Then he sorts his collection into piles based on a dizzying array of characteristics. This flow he finds, it’s his alone. Door closed, no devices, just a boy and the images that speak to him.
I trust so much. I trust that these small delights, his precious things, will join together in elegant union with all his other obsessions and loves and quirks. The way he kayaks with his dad, and spends weeks in the summer in a mountain cabin with a gang of boys, and rides his bike with both hands hanging down at his sides. How he drags a stool into the kitchen so he can make a quesadilla in the cast iron skillet while simultaneously reading his D&D Player’s Handbook. This big boy, cuddling the dog first thing when he wakes up and then again before bed, and at every transition point in between. The way he tells me I must squash any urge to pick up the piles of Magic the Gathering cards, an arrangement he insists is not messy but “floorganized.”
All of the little parts of him that he has chosen to uplift, they churn together with everything he can’t control. He lives in two houses with his two parents and their respective partners in a neighborhood he had no say in choosing. He participates in the local Unitarian Universalist church, only just this past October starting to go willingly after four years of forced Sundays. We even signed him up to referee basketball last season against his protests (and he was great at it).
I suppose he has as much say as most kids, which is really not much. Everybody is working all the time, and a little stressed about money, and planning road trips to visit family instead of overseas vacations. And no, we barely manage to keep this one walked and up to date on her vaccinations, we are absolutely not going to adopt another dog.
As he builds into himself, I trust that he will find his way to his take on honeysuckle. Some of these things he has chosen and some of these things he has not, they will lead him to it. I trust he will grow. He’ll get his heart broken. He’ll try different work and live different places. He will matter to his neighbors, his circle of dear ones, his family, and me. Always, always, on whichever side of the great divide I happen to be, he will matter to me.
I trust that by the time he gets to the age I am now, he will be as unfinished as his mama. If he’s anything like me at 46, he’ll be bumbling his way towards his next chapter and grappling with how to be a good human. He’ll be asking what his purpose is, and maybe trying to get over his pettiness and patterns so he can be a more attentive partner, neighbor, father, friend. He’ll probably be surprised to find that there is so much unanswered. Even at Midlife, he’ll still be learning what it means to be resilient.
As I witness him negotiate the uncertainty and upheaval of the world right now, I trust he is on his way. That he will always be on his way. I trust that his honeysuckle, whatever form it takes for him, will make its way to him when he has lived enough to know how to seek it. I trust that at 46, he will have so many moments of utter joy still ahead.
But not George Floyd. His mother, in her place on the other side, might now hear us calling his name from the streets. Maybe he hears us too, our invocation, this nationwide cry for justice. But George himself, the man finding his way to his fullness, he doesn’t get any more hugs from his customers. He doesn’t get to hear his daughter giggle. Whatever sweetness was waiting to unfold just for him will pass unnoticed, unsavored. The story stops here. At Midlife comes the abrupt end.
At 46, George Floyd is trapped forever in an excruciating loop on film, dying under a cop’s knee, calling for his mama.
It is a disgrace that trusting in a child’s future is a privilege reserved for mothers of white sons. It is a disgrace that so many mothers in this country don’t dare imagine their sons making it even to 46, let alone beyond that.
We need to come running. All the mothers, everywhere, we need to hear him calling for his mama. We need to hear that call echoing in our bones and we need to come for him. All that goodness, all that grace, all the delight that George Floyd still had left to create in this world, that’s on us to mourn. It’s on us to honor. It’s on to act so that all black boys have their chance to flourish.
Ella’s Song is written by Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon to honor Ella Baker, and is performed by Sweet Honey in the Rock.