Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Time to Plant and a Time to Uproot

This spring, two magnificent blossoms rose from an agapanthus plant I’d given up for dead. They remind me, in a bittersweet way, of a former neighbor.

The neighbor, a Navy wife whose husband was on his last posting before retirement, stayed less than a year in my landlocked part of the world. Her husband had chosen the house, and she found it forbidding, her mother was dying, and her daughter was expecting a baby in a far-off state.

“Can’t” didn’t have a place in my neighbor’s vocabulary although her husband’s postings had uprooted her and their children many, many times. She knew how to make a house a home via rugs, pillows and family pictures. She prided herself on her organizational skills and always had a list going.

She was a familiar sight pushing her wheelchair-bound mother up and down the street until the summer heat wilted them. She flew stand-by to visit her daughter for a weekend every six weeks or so. In other words, she coped.

She’d adapted to different locales and languages by following the adage, “Bloom Where You’re Planted,” and had embroidered that saying on a pillow cover. Imagine, then, how her failure to bloom at her husband’s final posting knocked her off balance. Here, circumstances had drop-kicked her into survival mode. She made the best of a tough situation but didn’t have the energy to flower. After several months of struggle to get her bearings, she opted to leave the state and live with her daughter, her mother in tow. Her husband would follow once he'd finished his last assignment.

“Bloom where you’re planted” is meant to inspire but puts a lot of pressure on the trailing spouse, the transferred worker, rotating doctor, interim department head, or any of us caught in a situation not entirely of our making.

Roughly five years ago, I planted an agapanthus in a sunny corner of my front yard. It bloomed its first spring but barely made it through the first summer. Too much sun (yes, such a thing is possible), a drought year, and a spot that drained too well meant the plant struggled to stay alive. Blooming was out of the question. The following year, I dug it up, intending to throw it onto the compost pile. I don’t know why I didn’t. At the last minute, I replanted it in the backyard’s dappled sunlight.

The plant greened up and spread but didn’t bloom until this spring, when it put on its over-the-top show.

I believe in making the best of situations we can’t change, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t better situations out there. A different location, different job, different coworkers or friends may be what we need to reach our potential.

My neighbor had bloomed many times until she hit her personal Sahara. When her willpower and familiar routines didn’t work their customary magic, she chose to transplant herself.

I’d like to think she’s blooming.

What about you? Do you believe in blooming where you’re planted or in planting yourself where you’re most likely to bloom?


Liz Flaherty said...

I believe in blooming where you're planted (though I haven't actually been challenged in that way) and I think your neighbor actually did that. Thing is, the last time out, she chose where she was going to be planted instead of having someone else do it.

Of course, you must remember, this opinion comes from a person who is able to kill both cacti and philodendrons no matter where she plants them.

Jennette Marie Powell said...

The resilience of military spouses always impresses me! I'm an apple that never fell far from the tree (I've never lived more than 40 miles away from where I am now), so not sure about blooming elsewhere, though I'd like to try it!

Patricia Rickrode w/a Jansen Schmidt said...

Well that is an interesting question. I'd like to think that I'd bloom wherever I've been planted, but it sure seems like I was meant to be somewhere else, especially lately. California is getting so wacky with their politics, so expensive to live, and so dry without much rainfall two years in a row. Fire danger is off the charts and I'm afraid to even have a backyard BBQ for fear of one tiny errant spark.

That said, I believe that should I choose to transplant myself, I would bloom even bigger and brighter. If I wasn't so afraid of uprooting and moving on without any money in hand and no guarantee of finding a job or alternate source of income somewhere else, I'd be packing tomorrow. I need some assurances that I'm going to get the sunlight and water that I'll need if I transplant.

So, I'm not sure how to answer the question. Both I guess.

I hope your former neighbor is thriving somewhere. Moving around a lot is exhausting and worrying about someone else's care is even more exhausting. I think she went into survival mode to protect herself from falling apart. After all, you can't take care of someone else if you're not okay yourself.

Great post, Pat.

Patricia Rickrode
w/a Jansen Schmidt

Coleen Patrick said...

I think I do. I grew up in a military family so we moved a lot. Your post has me thinking of my husband's Japanese maple tree garden. The first year cantaloupes grew right next to them because he'd used our composting dirt. It looked strange, but we had some tasty fruit that summer. :)

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Liz,
You're absolutely right. The last time, my neighbor chose where she'd plant herself and the rest of the family. I'm glad she had the gumption to make that decision. Military families and families subject to frequent job transfers have to be flexible, but I've known a couple of them who made one move too many. My neighbor's last move was for the family's well-being.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Jennette,
Resilience is the word I wanted! Thank you. Yes, my neighbor was resilient, but the most resilient plant needs decent soil and enough water. My neighbor needed proximity to her daughter and a locale in which she felt at home.

Jennette, who needs to travel miles when you can traverse time? (Readers, Jennette Marie Powell writes time travel novels.)

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Patricia,
If you don't like places with wacky politics and drought or near-drought conditions, stay away from Texas. Our housing prices are decent, though. Something to think about!

I have no doubt you'd bloom wherever you planted yourself.

Yes, my neighbor went into survival mode. She knew she had to get away from here to care for her mother. She did what she had to do, and her husband backed her. Longtime military know they couldn't do what they do without the support of their families. He returned the favor.

I'm pretty sure my neighbor's thriving.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Whoa, Coleen, that's some compost pile you've got going! I like the image of the cantaloupes growing beneath the Japanese maple.