Bittersweet: A woody vine of the genus Celastrus having small, round, yellow-orange fruits that open at maturity to expose red seeds.
My first wife harvested some of the bittersweet vine about this time of year, after it had lost its leaves, and used it to decorate in our living space. The color of the small berries was unique. We often refer to experiences about which we have mixed feelings as 'bittersweet'. In the Wiccan faith, the season between Mabon (Fall equinox) and Samhain (Halloween to most people) is often bittersweet because we are leaving things behind that we no longer need and preparing for winter and the New Year, spiritually as well as physically. The life lessons that the God and Goddess place in front of us often possess the same bittersweet quality; we take joy in the learning, though the task itself may be difficult and daunting. Also at this time of year, the veil between the worlds is thin and we can communicate more easily with our loved ones who have passed on.
Of course, I have an example; My granddaughter Ryver. Like most parents and grandparents, my opinion is biased, but Ryver truly is exceptional. She is not yet three years old, and she has seen more nurses, doctors, treatment rooms and hospitals than I have seen in my fifty-plus years. Ryver was diagnosed with neuroblastomic cancer in her liver before her first birthday. Neuroblastoma is a fast-growing variety, and the tumor was the size of my thumb by the time they found it. Ryver has had surgery to remove the tumor, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, all of which are painful, life threatening and risky. Yet this child has remained unfailingly sweet and ultimately adorable throughout the process. This is a child who would not let go of her chicken McNugget despite being drugged to insensibility on morphine and fentanyl to relieve her pain -- a child over whom her nurses and care-takers literally fought for the chance to care of in the hospital. Ryver would dance into the treatment room for radiation therapy and dance right back out again. This is a child for whom people across three states, from three different Wiccan groups, five different Christian churches and many other faith paths have praying during the months of her treatment. She has thrived, prospered even, provided inspiration for everyone involved and has been consistently ahead of her recovery schedule. Now she fights with her younger sister, dances through the house and has an amazing head of golden blond hair. Ryver is truly a miracle child and an incomparable warrior.
Earlier this week, Ryver went in for a routine CAT scan. Her treatment team found evidence that her cancer is returning, this time in her lungs. The family had to pick her sobbing daddy up from the front lawn where he had fallen to his knees and pry the cell phone from his fingers when the news came. It seems so unfair that a child who has fought so hard, with so much grace, and done so well, is now facing the same battle again. This is one of those bitter things that sometimes come to us with the Harvest. It is at times like these that we turn to our faith and our Gods, and wonder what the lesson is and why we must face this over and over. Often there are no immediate answers, and we must simply trust and have faith that we will find them. In the meantime, we rail at cruel fate, weep in sorrow and comfort each other, trying to find the strength to let go the bitterness and move on.
Ryver, however, does not share this experience. She just remains who she is and does what she does, dancing her way along the precipice that she doesn't see. We hoard our precious moments with her while she spends them freely. Perhaps this is the lesson that we need to see: Each moment that we have to spend together is sweet and to be savored and appreciated, whether we are pulling our sister's hair, hanging on to a Chicken McNugget for dear life or dancing out of the radiation therapy room. Life is bittersweet.
-- Uthyr SpiritBear