Nine months, it took. White flowers first, giving way to tiny green fruits and a slow swelling and enriching to bulbs of yellowblue glory, glowing for attention.
While the lemon grew, we did not touch it. We watered it with rain and let it feast on sunlight. We found other things to do. There is much you can do in nine months. You can grow a baby. You can go to war and return, if you are one of the lucky ones. You can complete a novel, build a house, lose twenty pounds. We did none of these things.
No. While the lemon grew silently and slowly, we listened.
We listened to people with stories. Slowing down our racing hearts and our eager minds we learned how to listen and not interfere with the stories of the grieving, the lost and the hopeless. We heard their fears, recognising small elements of the pains they were enduring. Ah, the ache of wanting to just change it all. We hoped to help, but perhaps, despite our best intentions, help was not always ready for them; and in some cases they were not always ready for help. We grieved too, as some refused to be heard and chose silence instead; muted by their own demons.
When we listened, we realised that life does not always give lemons, still less lemonade. How can the cup be half-full when there is nothing in it at all?
The people with the stories grew too. The stories released brought relief in some cases, and new purpose too. With permission, with some nudging and careful questions, we proposed directions and opportunities. We saw – more than once – the light of hope appear across a face like a lemon in full sunlight, as pasts were released and futures presented. That was why we listened. We thirsted for hope too.
There was much crying. Tissues ready every week; you never know who will need them. There were stories which broke us (we took turns to support each other on the hardest days). The sourness and tang of the saddest stories should not be sweetened with simple foolish sentiments. We learned to hold our tongues, hold our judgements, hold their hands when hands needed holding. We learned to pray silently and to scream in our heads.
For nine months, one storyteller came every week to tell us what trapped him; releasing more of his hurts, growing slowly. Though nurtured in some acidic soil he had struggled to contain it all and wanted to live again, needed to thrive. For nine months we listened and kept quiet, giving cups of water, letting the sunlight fall on his heavy shoulders.
And, when the lemon was ripe and the stories had all been told, he lifted his head for the first time and noticed our lemon tree, growing outside. All his life snakes had confused him. Now the lemon tree brought clarity; a kind of healing in its leaves. With a changed face, he laughed.