Just before Christmas, I received a pretty unassuming gift from a student. It was a large glass vase, filled about halfway with rocks, and with bulbs nestled just on top of those rocks. My only guidance was this: keep the water level to the top of the rocks/base of the bulbs and something magical will happen. This gift and the feeling of curiosity it imbued reminded me of when I was a kid–I was always struck by the promise of those pill sized, gelatin coated sponges that when soaked in warm water for a period of time would reveal some mystery animal. I loved those things and the seeming impossibility that contained in such a small, compact package was a reality far cooler than its exterior and a truth that was also entirely unpredictable.
That same sense of wonder struck me with this vase of bulbs. What on earth would they grow to be?
For anyone who really knows me, the gift of a plant, while a lovely gesture, is not a kind one…to the plant, that is. They sort of wilt in my presence or at the thought that I might be their caregiver. I mean, human beings in need of love and attention are my specialty. Cultivating horticulture, though…well, apparently God felt it was better that I just appreciate the beauty of nature rather than prune it.
Needless to say, despite what seemed like easy directions to maintain these bulbs, I was relatively certain that I would fumble the whole process. It would be added to the litany of all the plants Amy has killed and become fuel for fun at my expense. Yet, I was determined not to lose sight of my responsibility or to spoil the surprise to come.
And then Christmas break arrived.
I was leaving work on Friday and my hands were full and I didn’t want to drop the vase…so I left it in my office with the intent of returning for it the next day. Well, the next day (the next several days) filled themselves with all the chaos of family and holiday cheer and I not only didn’t go back, but I forgot the bulbs even existed…until New Year’s Day when my failure as a caregiver dawned on me and the guilt settled in. I just knew I would walk into my office the next day to discover the carnage of dried out or rotten bulbs. Disappointment over missing the surprise of what they held inside weighed heavy. But as I approached my office the next morning, staring at me through the window was this gorgeous sight:
Well, as I took in this wonder, I realized that those glorious green stalks standing tall with pride as they held up their prize–flowers impatiently waiting to burst through their leafy cocoons–were not in any way my accomplishment. They were in fact, simply a wonder and a truth of nature that didn’t require much from me and probably appreciated my absence as they did their thing!
As these flowers broke through and illuminated my office with fragrance and beauty, I considered what other transformations I might be missing in this world because I am simply not paying attention. Because, while it was jaw-dropping to encounter these fully grown stalks, how much cooler would it have been to have been there the whole time? How much more meaningful would it have been to have witnessed with admiration the changes from the seemingly impossible beginnings? I think that, just as I did with these bulbs, we often overlook people and ideas in this fast paced world of immediate gratification. If something or someone isn’t immediately what we hope for them to be, we sort of walk away instead of investing ourselves…instead of nurturing what might be possible and lending support and guidance until the transformation takes place. There is goodness in all of us waiting to burst through the cocoon, you know, if only we pause in time to recognize it before we miss it completely.
Something else struck me in this week of watching the continuing transformation…
The roots of these flowers didn’t dig into rich, humid soil; they existed amongst the rocks. Growing everyday and winding in and out of the spaces between to receive what they needed from the water. It seemed to me to be the best kind of perseverance…the kind it takes to transform ourselves, even when everyone else has walked away but we know there is something inside of us worth the effort. The perseverance to keep going and to keep trying when everything around us is difficult and a bit treacherous (so tempting here to say “rocky” but I fear this whole English teacher analogy has gone too far already to start inserting puns now…). The perseverance it takes to grow and to let brilliance burst forth commanding attention and proving to the world that they should never have walked away in the first place. That they should have been standing at attention because you never quit…because you knew your worth within even when they were blinded.
There is joy in the victory of that perseverance. And not just for the victor, but for all who extended support along the way. For all who paused and recognized value beyond the obvious.
I tell my students on the daily that we will always make time for what we feel is important. There is no harm in adjusting that compass of importance to point towards people and things that might require a bit more attention, a bit more investment. The goodness to come will be worth the effort.
(Day 4…done early on a Friday!)