I’ve always loved the old adage “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. It’s the epitome of positive thinking to take something seemingly negative and turn it into a positive. But here’s the thing. I love lemons. I think that humble, versatile, yellow orb gets a bad rap. The lovely fruit can delicately flavor food and drinks, has the power to clean a dirty counter, calm a pesky cough or fragrant a garden or home with it’s clean, crisp scent. Cars can be lemons. So can pies.
When I first moved to Los Angeles back in the early ’80s, I was so amazed that I could walk down the street and see lemon trees bursting with fruit just hanging there. Growing up in the Great White North where citrus fruits could only be found in a store and only in certain months, often with thick skins and little juice, I was awestruck at the realization that lemons and oranges and other exotic fruits were there at the touch of my fingers. The people in Southern California just took all this for granted but I would often spirit away one or two as I walked, thinking the owner would never miss them. Back in my rooms, I would revel in using the juice to cook and leaving the rinds to dry and perfume my space for days.
Last summer, I was having dinner with my older sister and brother in law. We knew her time was short but we had said all of the words and now just wanted to enjoy the time we had together, knowing every moment left was precious. I was having a dish that required a squeeze of lemon and I bemoaned the fact that as much as I loved the juice, it was a pain to have to dig out the seeds from my food before eating it. We proceeded to have a spirited discussion about lemons and my sister recounted a trip they had taken when the lemons were served with mesh covering them so when you squeezed, the mesh caught the seeds while allowing the juice to flavor the food. I marveled at such a simple solution! That recollection, like a lemon, is bittersweet. As with so many memories, I had forgotten our discussion until this summer, when ordering seafood in a restaurant in Morocco, we were served the dish with a lemon covered in mesh. The revelation was a sweet surprise but the bitterness came because she is no longer here to tell.
Grief is a lot like a lemon. It can be bitter. It can be sweet. It can come in waves or lay dormant until something as simple as a lemon can wash you in memory. It can sting like lemon juice on a paper cut. It can come with seeds that must be carefully picked out before moving forward. There is never a promise of life without pain or hardship. It’s those wounds that heal into tough scars that make us grow and become stronger and hopefully wiser. The smell of lemon can cleanse your soul and give you hope. It can be so sweet.
During my recent magical, mystical journey to ancient lands, I had a vivid dream of my sister. She was happy and laughing with me as we often had when she was alive and she told me she had come full circle. I was so elated to be with her but when I woke, the reality of our lives left me feeling sad and a little bereft. Still, the joy of having seen her lingered like a fresh scent. She was okay. I was okay.
Lemons can teach us a lot. We can be thin-skinned or thick-skinned as they can sometimes be. We can embrace the bitter and the sweet in life, which is truly balance, like yin and yang, sadness and joy, life and death. I love the juicy, tart sweetness that bursts upon my tongue when I eat a lemon but that very same juice can squirt into my eyes and make me cry. Then I need to decide. Paper cut or pie. Bitter or sweet. Rest assured there is no shortage of lemons that life can give you. It’s what you make of them that counts.