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Planting Hope

A few months ago I impulsively bought a Costco-sized bag of caladiums. Although I would never consider myself a gardener, at one time I regularly planted wide swaths of them to complement the shrubbery and tucked a few among the flowers in pots on the back patio. Their colorful, variegated leaves always put on a showy performance, and to this day they are among my favorite summer plantings I had counted on feeling good enough to dig the many holes, perfectly placing them where they would thrive. And ultimately, it took me a few days as I broke the task into small segments, my energy so easily depleted. But as I finished, I felt a bit of satisfaction at completing a little project that would later bring me joy. Perhaps it was an attempt to feel normal again, to do something so commonplace.

Unlike the ready-to-grow cell packs of various annuals, a bulb presents itself as a brown, lifeless blob. But it holds the promise that in a few weeks it will wake, its roots reaching deep into the rich soil and tiny leaves will begin to peek out in search of the light of the sun. It is a pretty amazing little miracle, one most of us don’t pause to recognize in our hectic world filled with so many distractions.

As I squatted, trowel in hand, I wondered how many times I had performed this particular spring ritual, impatiently waiting for the soil to warm and then carefully examining the bulbs for the bump at the top and the few wispy roots that had dried in the commercial warehouse used for overwintering them. Although I always had good intentions, I never was successful at preserving them myself since the task fell in early fall right before the first frost when my sights were set on pumpkin spice and cozy nights by the fire instead of planning for next year.

Truth be told, except for hitting the after-Christmas sales, when ornaments and gift wrap sell for 75% off, I was never good about living in the future. When my sons were small, I tried buying end-of-season marked-down clothing, guessing at the sizes they would be when the weather changed once more. Most of the time, I failed miserably, either forgetting about the stash tucked away in a closet or discovering that I had miscalculated, and a growth spurt rendered them far too tight. As the boys grew older and more particular, I gave up trying altogether and saved my money for those expensive, prized sneakers that they had to have. Sure, I made plans, but for the most part, I tried not to mortgage my todays for an undetermined tomorrow. And yet somehow, these caladiums, gave me something to anticipate as I looked at my summer calendar filled with medical appointments.

I suppose that through the years I have come to understand the great power of now, to appreciate this moment, with its certainty rather than worrying about what is to come, anticipating some abstract date, All of those cheesy poster slogans about embracing today are true. Having cancer has only reinforced that lesson since it is much too scary to ask about a prognosis, glimpse into a crystal ball to see what lies ahead. And that makes those feel-good days even more precious, elevating the most mundane errand into something special.

We have had a lot of rain here, which has helped those caladiums grow. I can see the planted pots from my kitchen and from my sick bed, which makes me happy. Of course, I missed a few spots, since some containers are empty, but I conveniently blame that on chemo brain and my random method of gardening. I think I did pretty well for somebody with a notoriously brown thumb.

I try to find some universal truth in most situations these days: being sick tends to lift the veil on the mysteries of life. We try to make it all so complicated, but it is really quite simple. Perhaps because I have been forced to stop the busy ness that keeps us all running like hamsters on a wheel, I have had time to think, to appreciate, to enjoy. I understand how priceless every moment truly is, the blessing of every breath. I think that makes me very fortunate. And even sipping a cup of coffee, while gazing out the window is an occasion. You see, I now understand the beauty in the unseen, the value of a promise, and the anticipation of a miracle. Like those ugly brown bulbs, hope springs eternal.


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