Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Hopeful Orchid

On Marine Drive, one block past Capilano Road, is a sign: Hope Road Closed. The street in question has not been open for years yet the sign always makes me smile. It reminds me of the song by Anne Clark, Hope Road.
…must have walked those streets for hours
in the dark and in the cold
Before I really could accept
There was no place called Hope Road.
And, no, I do not smile because the words are funny or extremely witty but because I remember the kinship I felt when I first heard it twenty or so years ago. The words resonated within me, touched something I had known forever. They still do, albeit in a slightly different context of which I will explain below.
I learned from a young age not to hope or have expectations. It wasn’t that I was deprived of the material needs of life. It was, instead, the less tangible items, those things we desire but are unsure of how to ask that I found lacking. To hope was to set myself up for disappointment. It was easier to stay within the limits of the reality I knew. Even so, hope crept in ever so often. Still does. Although I have tried various techniques of shutting it down it is only within the last five years I have become more successful in this endeavor. My method is simple. I sit myself down and remind myself of the differences between hope and its more valid replacement, trust.  While hope is ethereal, I say, trust is almost tangible, something to hold onto. Trust is based on acceptance and an understanding that life is manageable, one way or another. Hope, on the other hand, is full of unfulfilled desires and expectations. Trust is safe, I conclude, while hope is but a danger that only leads to heartache.
I have written several blogs on trust, especially how it is intertwined with a sense of inner safety. One leads to the other and are necessary for a life fulfilled. I am my own proof on this hypothesis and need no other. Trust and internal safety are major determinants in my life. They have nurtured my creativity, solidified my belief in Self and helped open my heart.  Trust, however, has also gifted me in a way I could not have foreseen: it has shown me another side of hope.
Last May, the local general store had a Mother’s Day sale on orchids. For $34.95 one could bring home their very own flowering epiphyte. I declined. I tend to disdain the purchase of new plants; having instead a penchant for bringing home the sick and weary (plants, that is) that no one else will take. I decided to bide my time. The month went by. Stocks dwindled and the price decreased to $29.95 and then $19.95. Still, I said, no.
In late June I approached the store manager. There are three orchids left, I said. No one will buy them; the staff is neglecting them and you will soon have to throw them out. Give them to me, I will take care of them. He dillied and then dallied and finally, through a multitude of dithering, he made his offer: all three for $5. Deal, I said.
I took them home and sat them on my window sill. Two of the plants looked promising but one, I felt, was on the way out. Something, however, bade me not to give in. I hate throwing away plants and detest the casual care that many are given. I see no difference in the life of a plant from that of an animal: if we take it into our care, we must nurture it like we would a human. Still, a dead plant is a dead plant and, while I know that surrender is sometimes the only option, this one orchid silently queried a reprieve.
Several months went by. The two with promise sprouted new leaves. They were deep green and turgid; glossy with health. My less than promising one just sat there as if apathetic to life; dormant and quiet. I didn’t give in; I didn’t change my plans. I wouldn’t have called it hope back then, more of a patience if anything but I liked how the leaves, while not quite glossy and somewhat splotchy with yellow, did not droop. Perhaps, I thought, its vital force, however reduced, still existed.
This past December, six months after the adoption papers were signed, a flower stalk grew on one of the plants. It stretched out long and lean, and grew over a foot in two months.  Two weeks ago it bloomed into a Georgia O’Keeffe canvas. The second orchid is not yet blooming, and may not this year. I am not worried; it glows with vitality in the north window.  My third orchid, however, just sits.
Although I try to bring a presence to all my plants I have been somewhat distant with this third one. Sure I water when dry and say good morning each day but I have not crowded it with excess attention nor placed any expectations upon it. I have, in other words, just accepted it; given it space, so to speak, to heal or not to heal.  This week, however, I wasn’t feeling very patient. I wanted this plant to make a decision, to die or live, to stop being so indifferent to life. I approached my seemingly lifeless friend with the intent to examine it more carefully. I lifted the pot only to bite my lip in delight: two aerial roots, one centimeters long, half hidden with sphagnum peat, grew from the base.
As I write this I find I have come to a crossroads or, at least, a three way split in the path: too many truths arose for my conclusion to be simple. The original point of this article was to talk of how trust can engender a new lease on hope. And, for sure, it has: as I move more deeply into trusting the processes of life (and death) I understand that hope doesn’t have to cling or expect the unrealistic; it can also be a patient yet detached acknowledgement of my desires. I wanted all my orchids to bloom, in fact, hoped they would, but I was also okay if they didn’t. It was about owning my wants but letting go of the outcomes.
I could end the piece here, but the other paths would lie wanting. They deserve, at least, a sign post or two. So, the second route I could have taken was to talk of the anger I can instill upon myself when I become, like the orchid, apathetic and withdrawn. It mirrors too much of my mother’s unconscious indecision to live or die so many years ago.  I want more of life and it maddens me when I (or my plants) disrespect this gift. The third path from which I could have concluded is a validation for what I have known for years but am always relearning: loving nurturance, compassionate care and good therapy are all excellent paths for healing wounds but sometimes … sometimes we need something different. Sometimes what we need is just space and time to come into our own.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Belated St. Patrick's Day Greeting

I have an affinity to St. Patrick’s day. It’s the Irish in me you see or, at least, what I imagined the Irish to be.
It all started when I was a little girl, perhaps 5 or 6. Back then I had a speech impediment. I couldn’t differentiate between my S-es and SH-es; TH –es were next to impossible and Rs were said with great difficulty. Only my family and close friends understood my tangled web of consonants. Interestingly, I never felt constrained by this. I talked non-stop, sang songs and carried on with careless aplomb. Even when people asked why I spoke funny—and they did—I told them it was because of my Irish accent. I truly believed it. And why not? To back it up I danced an Irish Jig or something I thought passed as one. Resting one foot on my inner leg I would hop up and down on alternating feet while twirling around with my arms arched above my head… worked for me. Unfortunately, as everyone else but me knew, I didn’t have an accent. The little Irish that was in my blood was at least three generations back… I just needed speech therapy.
I wrote this paragraph on March 17 because the day always makes think of my jig, which then leads me to my TH-es and SH-es and finally to my Nana who is the tenuous link to my Irish ancestors. I say tenuous because I know little of her history. She was born in Boston in 1898. Her maiden name was Fitzgerald, a good Celtic name, and was baptized catholic. And there it ends. Oh, I also know she liked St. Patrick’s day and would wear a green ribbon to mark the occasion. Perhaps she told me more back then when I was babbling about shnakes and soulders but I don’t remember. She died just before I turned 14.
I loved my Nana. She was my rock. She read me to sleep, walked me to the store and shared a room with me for seven years. And if she had some ethereal hold on the Irish, well then, so did I. Irish she was and Irish I would be—speech impediments be damned, it was the luck of the Irish that twisted my tongue.
So, a rather belated but very sincere, happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Ashes 4

Flakes, chips; hollowed out
scraps—skeletons of bone.
The marrow:
Intricate webs of fragility.
There is no substance to these fragments, just
solidified air.
A fanciful network of what once was.

My grandmother, Nana,
Is not represented here. She was
earth, stone and the cool clear water
running through.
My anchor, my strength, the core
of my being. Burned, crushed,
emptied out.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Ashes 3 - Memories

Mom’s ashes:
Tiny memories. Fragments
of her mind, my mind.
All contained in a box.

Have a cup of tea and
would you like to see my memories?
There, in the box, they have been purified, you see,
burned in the pyre and then
ground down—to the basics.
Like sand. But not really.

There is no world, to paraphrase Blake’s fine lines,
 within that grain: A gritty
calcified blend of phosphates,
sodium and potassium.
No, no world, just remains.
And memories.