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 next book that will take wing soon, the one on which I’ve been working since right after I met his eyes and watched him take his last breath that June day in 2007. As steeped as The Munich Girl is in Germany and World War II, he unquestionably had something to do with the wild combination of unpredictable circumstances that steered me headlong into it. (Wild combinations of unpredictable circumstances were one of his hallmarks, too.)
And yes, yet again, he was absolutely right about the value of perseverance, whose importance always becomes 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. And thanks for that reminder, much more useful than my degree ever was.
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