A Thing of Beauty


I'm standing in the studio behind my house. The sun is streaming in and beating itself against the cardboard boxes. I'm shuffling through cabinets determine what goes. What stays.

Perched on top of the tile counter, my orchid plant, bleached by sunlight. To call it a plant is actually quite generous. At this point, it consists of two weathered leaves and two stale vertical sticks.

I brought it out here to die. I wasn't able to bring myself to murder the plant with one intentional act. I wasn't able to put it in the compost. Or to throw it in the garbage.

The poor thing has had two sticks and two leaves for over a year now.

It was a gift from one of my dearest students. A beautiful token of gratitude from the other side of the country, a lovely surprise arriving on my doorstep; promptly finding a home in the bright part of my kitchen.

The blooms seemed so perfect and so everlasting; I wondered if they were real. 

Now, as I box up the remains of my previous life, I have to reconcile my conscious decision to let this poor creature die a slow death. Making thin justifications to myself: it needed more sunlight, it's nice and warm back there.

But the truth is: it was dying, it wasn't pretty, and I didn't want to look at it anymore. 

So, I put out where I wouldn't have to look it in the eyes. I hid it where I could forget about it. Where it could die without me feeling too inadequate. Where I could find a easier story to tell myself.

I held this little package of sticks and leaves and asked it to give me a reason to save its life.

If you're in there, let me know and I will save you. If you want to die, I'll let you die. It's time.

I studied it for clues and found the teeniest tiniest inkling of an idea. It was a slight bump under the dead-looking stick. Actually there were three or four of them. The stick might be dying, but it looked like there was an idea of something within it. Something that was more than a dying branch. Something that just might be life.

That was enough. I just needed a sign and I moved the plant to my new home and gave it a perch in my new kitchen.

For five weeks, I studied these two sticks and two leaves, convinced that I was just staring so hard at this thing that I had come to believe my own illusion of life.

But then, something miraculous happened. The bumps turned into branches. Within hours, the branches had buds. The bump that was under the dead stick was now the bud. 

This plant was never dead. It wasn't pretty and it wasn't in its full-orchid-glory. But it was nowhere near dead. The entire time, the next generation of orchid lived within it. And the plant was living, according to its own clock. According to its own season. Knowing that it can be patient and wait to show its fullest expression of life.

This plant has taught me so much about myself and what I do with the not-so-pretty sticks and leaves. The parts of me that are withered and dying. The parts that are ugly. They get shuttled out back. Where no one will see them. Where they can die a slow and lonely death. Where I don't have to look them in the eye.

I can't help but wonder what would happen if I not only saw the not-so-pretty as valid, but saw it as an actual season. An intregal part of my being.

If instead of seeing withered and dying, I saw hibernating, resting, wintering.

And instead of pushing these parts away, hiding them out back and hoping that they quickly die so that I don't have to feel the weight of what I have done; if instead, I nurtured these parts and kept them in the bright kitchen of my life, if I allowed them to still be in the center of my life and my home. If I saw their resting phase being just as beautiful as their fullest bloom.

Last night, as I was turning my lights off and heading to bed, I saw one petal that had sprung open. This miracle being born from something that appeared to be so lifeless only weeks ago.

I will remember these orchids, these petals full of wonder and surprise. I will remember this when I feel like I have no ideas, or energy left in me. When I feel tired and used up.

I will remember to find myself a place to winter over. To allow the miracle to take shape. And to be patient until life can't help itself but burst through the old dead undergrowth.

And to see this process of resurrection.

As a thing of beauty.