Getting there

Getting there

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lessons of the Bonsai

A couple of years ago my daughter became fascinated with bonsai trees. I have no idea where it started, but she began begging for a bonsai of her own. I explained that they can be finicky plants, and I don't have a green thumb at the best of times (I'm known for killing our poinsettias on an annual basis). Finally I told her that if she researched it thoroughly and agreed to be responsible for the majority of the care I would consider it.

She hit the internet with fervor and soon had her bonsai facts down. She knew which kind she wanted and how to care for it, and she was very earnest in her desire. I was so impressed with her diligence that I agreed, and we took a trip to our local greenhouse. We found a beautiful bougainvillea bonsai in full bloom, lush with pink flowers. It was quite expensive but I pulled out my wallet and we took it home.

The bonsai lost the blooms quickly, but it did okay. It had full green leaves and seemed happy - until we moved to our new home. I noticed shortly after our return from holiday a few weeks ago that the bonsai was losing leaves at an astonishing rate. The remaining leaves seemed dry and droopy. The bonsai was not happy. I feared for it - it was clearly struggling, and I thought it was going to die. Every day I checked it, watered it faithfully every third day, and waited for the final leaf to drop and for it to be over. The bonsai was going through a difficult time.

People who know me well know that a couple of years ago I went through a difficult time, too, a time of struggle. My mother, who was elderly but in good health, had been found in her apartment unconscious but clinging to life. After a few days in the ICU the decision to remove life support was made and she died with all her children, including me, at her side. Her death was so unexpected and so unfair - she had just begun to truly live again after my father's long illness and death. She had made new friends and a new life, and it was taken away from her. When my mother died my heart broke - but something else inside me broke, too. I now realize it was hope. Any hope I had that the world made sense died with her, it seemed. All my hope that things would be okay perished. I entered a very dark period in my life, devoid of joy and happiness, and, yes, hope.

It took many months, the love of my husband, daughter, family, and friends, and, quite honestly, a few sessions with a therapist for me to find hope again. When I found it, though, it was a new form of hope and a fervent desire to embrace life. I decided that if I loved someone, friends or family, that I would tell them, always. I decided that if someone had touched me with their talent or wisdom or kindness that I would let them know and not allow my own insecurity stop me from making sure they knew they were appreciated. If I met someone new whose company I enjoyed I would do what I could to keep them in my life because I realized that those people are rare gifts that should never be refused. I would do my best to retain old friendships that had stood the test of time because I knew those are rarer still. I decided that if the opportunity presented itself and felt right I would dance until dawn, sing until I lost my voice, listen to very loud music, and accept every invitation to every party and event. I would allow myself to make mistakes (drink too much, or stay up too late) and forgive myself. I didn't want to just survive - I wanted to thrive, to embrace all that is this too-brief life. I would do the things I loved with the people I loved in the places I loved, and I would greet every day with new appreciation and enthusiasm. At times now I am so happy that I find myself with tears in my eyes and my heart thumping so loudly I fear it will fly out of my chest. I have renewed hope. It had never disappeared, it had just been lost for a little while.

A few days ago I looked at my windowsill at the poor little bonsai, again expecting to see that it had finally given up. I could barely believe my eyes when I saw, just visible, a tiny pink flower. And when I looked closer there were several more, and bunches of tiny new green leaves. The bonsai wasn't dying - it had survived the dark days and it was thriving. The little bonsai, for which I had no hope, had blossomed. I looked at my little bonsai, not surviving, but blooming, and thought "Me too, little tree, me too".

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