What compelled me to take my mother’s mystery houseplant, I don’t recall. Its smooth, reed-like fronds grew outward from a single, papery stalk in the shape of a fan. My mother kept it in a plastic pot – the kind in which you might bring home a tomato plant from a nursery. Nothing showy. And the plant wasn’t either.
“Give it a little water once a week,” Mom said, forgetting what it was called. “It blooms once every year or so, but if you’re patient, the flowers are spectacular.”
I don’t claim to be good with plants. What I stick in the narrow border around my house either grows or it doesn’t. Same with the vegetable patch out by the shed. Every week throughout the growing season I water a bit and weed a bit, and when things look desperate I water and weed a little bit more. My houseplants mostly fend for themselves, which is why I wasn’t looking for another.
But I’m a sucker for living things, and my mom planned to throw this particular living thing out if I didn’t want it. She was headed for a lengthy move overseas and didn’t know what else to do with it. So, being a sucker, I brought it home. Only, without knowing what kind of a plant it was, I wasn’t sure where to put it. Sun or shade? Neither seemed to make much of a difference.
One year, two years, three years passed without a single bloom. I ignored the plant. I doted on it, repotting it in fresh soil in a hand-painted Portuguese pot. I moved it from the mudroom floor to a window, from the window to a dim corner atop the piano, from the piano to an island in the middle of my kitchen, from my kitchen to a south-facing window by my kitchen table. Still, nothing but a few disappointing green shoots.
Produce! Grow! Do something! I insisted, giving the plant its weekly – or monthly – dose of water. More than once, I was tempted to toss the plant out, but during that time, my mother died. And the plant’s fronds were still green with life. So having exhausted all my efforts to make the plant become what I wanted, I resigned myself to wait. And, hiding it behind a pair of showy poinsettias over the Christmas holidays, I simply let the plant be.
Then one morning at breakfast about a month later, my 8-year-old’s face lit up with wonder. “Look, mom!” He peered between the poinsettias and pointed. There, neatly arranged like a flower-girl’s headband, was a bouquet of five bright orange and yellow blooms.
For seven years my mother’s plant looked like a failure. But all that time, through all of my misguided efforts, it was building deep within itself everything it needed to bloom. Maybe your life feels like that, or the life of someone you love. Despite your best efforts, there’s not much to show. “But if we hope for what we do not see,” the apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:25 (ESV), “we wait for it with patience.”
As others have observed, where there is life, there is hope. And if you resist the urge to throw it away and choose instead to wait with patience, the results just might be spectacular.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. The Backward Easter Egg Hunt, the second book in her Lantern Hill Farm picture-book series, is available for preorder now.