To Bloom and Grow

I have enjoyed greatly the second blooming… suddenly you find – at the age of 50, say – that a whole new life has opened before you.” -Agatha Christie

I have been, for a season, thinking deeply about the ideas of weaving and culture. Weaving is a craft of precision, with control in every thoughtfully placed thread. So my mothering soul, who longs for order, has found weaving a comforting metaphor, but much of my child’s life is beyond control. How can I make my peace with messy things like blooming?

Our teacher told me last fall that my son was “blossoming.” I knew immediately what he meant, but the word startled me, in a good way. It pushed me ever so gently to see my son’s development in a different light. As is usual with our intuitive teacher, it was just the right word at just the right time for my son’s mama to hear.

Blossoming. It is a curious word. In my childhood, it was only attached to awkward conversations about things like training bras. It was never used to describe emotional development, a pity I think now.

Our teacher, however, was speaking of the leaps my son has made in his social skills. Leaps only made possible by a steady emotional unfolding as my son has learned to trust adults other than myself and to trust in himself outside of our home. Leaps that I could not be fully aware of since they are taking place when I am not present. However, due to the unique nature of our fabulous school, my son has been privileged to have the same teacher for the last two years. So our teacher has been perfectly positioned to see my boy breaking out of his shell of protective behaviors and reaching out in ways that reveal his inner self. Like a bud breaking out into bloom.

Ahhh, plant metaphors. Much less comforting.

Plants are so out of our control. We can place a seed, provide water and a sunny spot, but beyond that plants are on their own. No gardener can truly force a plant to bloom. Some seeds simply will not sprout. I have a less-than-green-thumb, so I know how unpredictable blooming can be.

In my life, I have been an extraordinarily late bloomer. Late enough to have the process still very fresh in my mind. So, when I heard the word “blossoming,” my eyes were opened to the challenges my son has been facing. I understand, no matter how beautiful it might seem to an outside observer, blossoming is painful and exhausting work.

I have bloomed twice in my life.

The first bloom was like a Morning Glory in late summer. During the common blossoming years of teens and twenties, I was struggling to push even one green shoot of my own self out of the hard, dark ground. It took decades for me to gather enough of myself up to make one bloom, but when it finally came it was worth the effort. I was well into my thirties when I held my little baby. My son was born with his eyes full of questions. As we stared at each other that first hour, I found myself full of answers. As if everything in my life had just been prelude to this moment. This son rose to light my life and I bloomed, in one dramatic moment. For the next year, I was swaying in the breeze, putting off all the color and heavenly scent I could muster into a happy world. It was lovely to experience, and I am proud to say that I drunk it in as much as any new mother I have ever met. Morning Glories are beautiful, but they don’t last long.

About a year later the storm hit, and I found myself mowed to the ground, cut back to only my roots. Crushed in that first bloom, my only hope was to create enough of a scrubby little brush of my life to shelter my son. Blooming again seemed unthinkable. Survival alone was my goal. I would draw on the strength of all those long years of painful growth, devote myself to my son, and resign myself to having only bloomed once. It seemed like a reasonable plan to me, but then, as I said, I am no gardener. A real gardener knows that plants live to bloom. It is their purpose. When a plant stops blooming, it starts dying.

Soon I was dying. Seems dramatic to say, yet I believe it to be true. My body was rejecting itself after cancer treatment. My heart was damaged, my lungs were failing, I was malnourished, and my joints were all wrecked. I had an infection for more than six months with a drug-resistant bacteria that my weakened immune system just couldn’t shake. I saw a line of specialists, but it became apparent that it was not in their power to cure me. No one in my life seemed to be capable of helping me. They were looking right past me, saying, “You’re OK. You’re OK,” without listening to me say how deeply I knew that I was not.

I felt like I was at a crossroad. It was the pivotal time after chemo when the cancer would either go in remission or rise again to kill me. I felt in my body that, if I could not find a solution soon, I would not survive. I took tests, swallowed pills, and prayed. I screamed and pounded my fists and ran vainly in circles. On my own, I could find no way out of this deadly crisis.

Then one day, a hero came, in the form of a friend who knew a little about gardening. He heard words I couldn’t even speak. He saw exactly what I needed, and he had a simple solution. Stop trying to just survive… bloom and grow.

It seemed impossible to me. I had no tools for this. My life experience had given me plenty of practice in survival, but only one small taste of blooming. I could not give birth to another child, so what could I use to bloom again? I was stumped, but my friend was not. “You were always a writer,” he reminded me, and then I remembered. I remembered that part of myself I had intentionally given up long before when the world had told me I had more important things to do.

“Write now,” he said. But I did not even own a computer. “Take this one,” he said, and in his hands was an old gray laptop… a single tool. When I wrote to thank him, he said, “Write more.” When I wrote more, he said, “This is good.” When one day I finally agreed that it was good, he said, “If you wrote a book, I would read it.” So, I took all the disordered parts of my life and wrote them out in neat pages which became tidy chapters which finally gathered all together to make a lovely little book.

This second blooming was not showy at all, more like a scrappy little shrub rose on a old fence-line long forgotten. Through the force of a heart still green at its core, hands full of one useful tool, and a single friend by my side, I transformed all the dirt and floods and glaring heat of my life into a series of little, pale, tufty blooms, content for no one to see or admire besides my one gardening friend.

I am growing still, and I am slowly becoming confident of my own ability to create little buds in my life and nurture them with self-kindness. I can honestly say that have greatly enjoyed this second blooming, but I haven’t forgotten how painful at times the process has been. The day I decided that I would write my little book, I wrote this sort of map for myself:

Surely a woman cannot reenter the actual womb, but life can certainly send her drenching wet with sweat and tears into the fetal position. Stripped of all her protective layers and all the distracting trappings of life, she can seem like a newborn indeed, cold, naked, hungry, confused and wailing in the hope of being heard.

If, at that moment of complete and utter transformation when all of her past self seems to have melted away, she reaches out and finds a warm hand, a reassuring grasp, it would be logical for her to call this moment a miracle. If she somehow found herself slowly, invisibly and inexplicably comforted, nurtured, clothed, fed, and healed, it would be reasonable to believe that she could develop a new kind of trust, even if she had never really trusted before. 

And if such a trust were to happen to such a person, then she would indeed be a new creation.”

To bloom is to be recreated, transformed. Transformation is messy, exhausting work. Blossoming creates a newness that can be scarey. I need to remember this when I look at my son. At those moments when my own frustrations seem more pressing, I need to recall how confusing and chaotic this blossoming was to my grown-up self. I need to have patience and kindness with his little soul as he transforms.

My son must blossom on his own, but I can look to share what I’ve learned from this second blooming. I can teach him to cultivate his character. I can train his heart to look for helpers along the way, and I can tell him much about hope and faith.

What character traits do I wish for my son most? Determination, of course, but also devotion. The perseverance to hang on, to never stop trying, is the perhaps the single trait that could help him to blossom, but after the bloom comes the need for loyalty. Anyone can appreciate a flower when it is open and full, but would those same eyes have smiled on the scrub bush at its weakest and most faded? I hope he will value the friends who nurture him through the hard growing seasons.

Who would I have my son look to for inspiration? Hero-gardeners, I think. For a true hero is one who crafts his own character very thoughtfully to place himself where he can help others. A hero spends time and effort fitting himself to become exactly the person that someday a complete stranger might need. When such a person comes to help in even the smallest way, I hope my son will see beyond the humble attitude and words to recognize the sacrifices it took to create such a life. I hope that his heroes will be those who teach the children, serve the outcast, and strive for good simple things. Who share a smile, lighten a load, and send out bits of sunshine, with only one goal… to help others bloom and grow.

What would I wish my son to train his heart to recognize? Kindred spirits more than anything else. Those joyous people, those thoughtful people, those insightful, intuitive people, whose spark pushes you to grow in surprising ways. Kindred spirits challenge what is deepest in us to bloom. When the universe in all its freakish glory sends, at the most inconvenient time, in the most unlikely place, such a challenge, the only choice is to bless or curse in reply. I will not say I have never cursed the universe for challenging my character too much, but I would choose to bless instead. The more I bloom, the more I learn to be grateful, without agenda, for any brief moment to share space in this crazy world with another soul in bloom.

What tool can I give my son? Faith could be the strongest. I can share with him my quirky faith, about miracles and traditions. To me, a miracle is what happens when a soul lands in just the right place to touch and be touched by that bit of eternity that hides within and among us. Such as when layers of hard work or training unfold suddenly in an amazing way, like petals at dawn. When patience and preparation create just the right moment where two people can meet in a goodness that is greater than love, and see and be seen, and both be changed. If my son can keep his sense of child-like wonder at the world and the miraculous souls that walk across its face, his life could bloom with miracles. Traditions are one way to reach for these moments. Faith has led us to honor Shabbat in our family, and it turns out Shabbat is all about blooming. We all must eat, but Shabbat tells us to go beyond a microwave meal. It tells us to lay a beautiful cloth, put out flowers, serve ourselves the best wine and the homemade bread. Go beyond the ordinary survival mode and bloom. Traditions like this could teach my son to reach out with faith to see the miracle a simple meal, a moment in time, can be.

What more than anything else would I want to my son to hold on to? Hope itself, I suppose. No matter the drought or cold, hope always looks for another blooming. To an open heart, the next blooming is always just around the corner. Life can be hard and harsh, but the seasons of life are strangely unpredictable. The opportunity to bloom may come awkwardly and unbidden. I hope he will embrace it anyway.

So what, after all this, should this word “blossoming” speak to my son’s mother? Be patient, I think. Learn to be patient with yourself and your son during all these changes. For if God is love, then God resides wherever love blooms… in the very acts of patience, kindness, and unselfishness. In patience seek for the wisdom to reverence that bit of eternity that waits to bloom in every soul. In patience be grateful, with no desire for anything more than the freedom that is gratitude. Be grateful for the joy it is just to bloom in the same garden.

Bloom, then bloom again. Bloom and grow. Your son is watching.

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