If I Were a Peony

The pink blossoms of my magnolias are the primary spark of color on my street on this last day of March. Each day, the blossoms seem to multiply and their color magnify. I teach my students that adjectives are like flowers. Adjectives decorate nouns just like flowers decorate our world. They distinguish a man from the curious man and the devious man. They add color to our language, and that analogy typically makes sense to my students.

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When I returned my neighbor’s recycling bin to his back yard earlier today, I found three yellow daffodils peeking out from amidst the tall blades of grass, waving hello. There are two overgrown flower beds in front of my porch, and I plan to plant some flowers this year. Never have I cultivated a garden, and though I know it’s too late for perennials this year, I’ve always wanted peonies.

Too late this year. But plant them, and in their necessary time, their blossoms will come. This year, I’ll buy impatiens and put them in the ground.  I can do the same next year, and the year after that if I’m still here, but peonies demand planning and time.  I don’t know much about gardening, but I understand the difference between perennials and annuals.  Annuals make sense to me – you can witness an impatiens’ entire life cycle in one season.  They’re born, live, and die under a watchful eye.

Perennials, however, seem to me seeds of faith.  You open up the earth one season, plant their bulbs at just the right distance into the ground, cover them up, and wait.  Beneath the soil, they wait.  Rains fall.  Mowers cut.  Leaves fall.  Rakes scratch.  Snow falls.  Ice thaws.  All above the bulbs while they wait.   Life convenes around them.  Seasons turn.  Time passes.  And somehow they know when it’s warm and safe enough to break free of their protective casing and become what they were meant to be.

Like those daffodils in the neighbor’s yard, likely long forgotten in a year filled with children and grandchildren, jobs and church, friends and get-togethers.  Their house is always filled with life, cars coming and going.  I didn’t notice the flowers last week, so I imagine they have just made their entrance.  The ground around them is unkempt, so they must be resilient little flowers.  They’re just a few yards away from the grand tree, chopped up.  I’m still waiting for the tree savior to return and collect the firewood, but I’m hopeful.  The life of the yellow flowers next to the dead wood is a dramatic paradox.

Maybe I could learn a lesson from the perennial.  So much of my life I judge success and failure by what’s visible to my eye.  If I planted impatiens, I wouldn’t expect to see them return the next year because I understand what they are.  Their life cycle is both visible and short.  If I planted peonies without knowing which type of flower they were, I would imagine myself a failure as a gardener when they did not blossom right away.  If I judged their success on what was visible, I would resign myself to disappointment.

As I have done with my own existence.  For what is visible is a woman without blossoms.  A peony planted in the fall blooms in the spring, displays glossy green leaves last through the summer, and boasts purplish hues in the fall.  The beauty of its life takes different forms, but it is nevertheless flourishing.  Seasons of the human life cannot be segmented into four month accruals.  Unlike a flower that knows inherently when it’s time to morph into another version of itself, there is no seasonal compass directing my personal transformations.  Yet, if I consider my own being as that of a perennial, change is to be expected.  Every day will not be filled with pink blossoms, but they will come.  We should consider the progressive adjectives: first pretty, then beautiful, and eventually, stunning.

And the seasons in between are all a part of the life cycle.  Even a peony needs the chilling of cold winters for its formation.  Lord knows I’ve had my share of cold winters.  This last one was just a little longer than most.

Perhaps the greatest lesson in the peony is that it takes a few years to establish itself.  Its first year blooming is just a preview to what all it will become.  As I reflect on years past, I cannot help but note the times I flourished.  Senior year of high school with my success on the track team and a lead in the student run play marked a time in my life where I was soaring.  When I first started teaching and I was modeling on the side, doing musicals at church and writing my first book, I was undeniably happy.  If I label these as the great springs of my life, I might be able identify all the summers, falls, and winters in between.

What’s of importance to me now is the most recent seasons.  The last summer I believe started with my marriage.  We honeymooned in Florida and spent the days riding roller coasters and the nights watching TV.  I was contented.  Glossy green leaves for a year or two.  I completed my graduate degree online at Wilkes University with a 4.0 and took more from the experience than all my college courses combined.  Purple hue for another year or so.  Then I left teaching to try and save my marriage, spending my days at home, keeping house and doing puzzles until I didn’t want to get out of bed any more.  Nothing visible.  Winter had come.

I left the city I had called home for more than ten years.   I left my friends, my church, and my city and went back to Syracuse where I had grown up.  I said myself that I was starting over, but that was two years ago, so why haven’t I seen myself flourish again?  Could it be that the decision to uproot and replant meant that my first spring would be like that of a new plant, that I could expect I would not see my full potential for some years to come?

During my brief time in Syracuse, I started a new job and built some incredible relationships.  I began fostering a friendship with my mother that has grown into daily heart-to-heart talks that I do not take for granted.  I returned to the gym and began cultivating my body.  I had a session each week with a psychologist that made such an impact on my well-being that upon running into him during a visit home at Christmas, it brought tears to my eyes.  Maybe I did experience a spring after all, but I missed it because it didn’t look as full as what I was expecting.

As sure as the daffodils in my neighbor’s yard know when it’s safe to break through the ground, my latent potential will find the top of the soil.  As sure as the magnolias in my front yard will be more in number when I pull in the driveway tomorrow, the visible product of a season of dormancy will yield something progressively beautiful as the days of my life unfold.  As sure as the peonies I plant this fall will be more beautiful in 2018 than they will next year, there will be promising blossoms in my future.  I’m a perennial, not an annual, and this metaphor pleases me more than firewood and branches.  I’m an adjective, and that makes sense to me.

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