It was Christmas morning, 1972. A chilled brilliance seeping through loose window sashes shuddered the narrow refectory, alive with pungency. At the front next to the Mothers’ table stood a live Scotch pine tree decorated with fresh lemons, each attached by a brass screw and an orange ribbon. No other adornment. I caught my breath.

These many years later, that image still excites my imagination. Using lemons in that way had never occurred to me; their simplicity spoke of the giftedness of the recently arrived Superior who delighted the community with her creation. Its aromatic presence and analogous colors soothed me through the holidays.

Which speaks to the knack of combining two seemingly unlike objects that morph into something else, evoking change/surprise. Chefs know this and enfold lemons within entrees, salads, and desserts. Body workers know this and place scented lemons oils in their studios. Therapists know this and rub juice from fresh lemons onto the bodies of troubled clients. Those with respiratory ailments know this and sip lemon juice in water.

But lemon’s zing also nudges spirit in significant ways: dissolves glitches, cleanses taste, enlivens interest, and sparks the present moment where, alone, grace abounds. And it is precisely therein that I seek to hang out, given my increasing weakness. Just as the succulent lemon eventually discolors and dries up, so too is my body showing signs of change. Still buoyed by lemon-water each day, I move ahead to what is, eyes wide open. This is working out, albeit slowly …