Six years after my father’s death, a memory of him blooms as faithfully each June as the flowers erupting all around.
Days after his death, I was lamenting the achingly empty rooms of his house when something pulled my attention to his back garden.
The brilliance waiting there nearly bowled me over — I remember literally gasping to get my breath back. Every bush, shrub, and bulb he’d ever planted seemed to be in bloom at once, ecstatic testimony to the indomitable nature of life itself.
That indefatigable blooming brought to mind the last bit of gardening we’d done together the year before. Dad had a little strip of land on which he planted impatiens each year. That June, I’d spied two trays of them on his patio and realized that, since he could barely walk any longer, there was no way he could plant them.
We were quite a team that day, “helped” by his ever-eager miniature schnauzer, Patsy, namesake of the saint on whose day she was born. Dad churned up the soil with a long-handled trowel while I followed, nestling the little plants into place. It had just rained so the job was messy, the mosquitoes thick, and Patsy a determined quality-control inspector (i.e. right in my face) as I hunkered over those beds.
I knew the task was one of the very last things we’d do together.
Year by year, I discover the many intangibles my father helped bring to bloom. The day of my UMass graduation, he pulled the car to the side of the road on a rise that overlooks Amherst (he was inclined to try and execute things with a flourish), turned around to where I sat in back, and announced: “You graduated. And you did well. But most important is that you kept going. You didn’t give up. In time, you’ll value that more than anything else.”
This June’s new bloom is the book I’m still surprised by, and his words couldn’t have more meaning. Our children were grade-schoolers when my parents sent congratulatory flowers with the message, “Volumes of love – we knew you could” when I’d finished what I then considered its polished draft, and an agent seemed enthused.
The story began with a dream that I’m just realizing was like a shift of wind in a boat’s sails, reorienting my life to bring it closer to what I’m here for. I love the story so much I couldn’t possibly let its “residents” remain homeless in a drawer, no matter how many readers do or don’t visit the home they’ve found in the world.
I also had to learn a LOT about patience, and process, along the way. My dad was absolutely right about the value of perseverance, which does seem more visible in the light of time.
Thinking about plants and growth, I’m reminded of an instance in which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá counseled someone who’d experienced the loss of a loved one that while the pain of physical separation remains for those left behind, for the one who dies, it’s as though a wise and kind gardener has transplanted a struggling plant to a wider, more welcoming place where it can reach a whole new level of growth.
Many things in life, as well as death, bring that home to us each day. Bloom on, Dad.