She was garnishing crackers with cheese filling, her two hands wrapped together around the frosting bag as she moved quickly, like an automated drill press with a flourish. I stood beside her, having arranged a few boxes of flavored crackers in a tray, holding my empty box and complaining. Like most things I complained about in those days, it had to do with my marriage and the difficulty of not only raising children, but dragging along a troublemaking spouse. She listened silently but she never stopped moving, filling plate after platter of treats for her parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration. I continued to stand still and hold my empty box, having theoretically helped, and rattling off my many reasons for dissatisfaction.
Finally, without even lifting her head, she exclaimed with mild exasperation, “Oh Bonnie, bloom where you’re planted,” as she continued to prepare serving trays. It was like a faceful of ice water, and I probably even stuck out my lower lip, though her head was lowered as she continued to work. In wounded silence, I went somewhere else, probably to find my children or to stare at a wall while I put up my pregnancy-swollen and oh-so-put-upon feet.
I’ve often thought of that exchange since, when someone has come to me to tell me all the reasons someone else has wounded them. I wonder what they hope to accomplish with the conversation. I have to shake my head that I’m usually up to my elbows in something when they stop petulantly beside me. I also think of it when I’m frustrated with someone else and the complaining urge rises. I wonder what I hope to accomplish.
When I was forming my ideas about literature, an instructor told me a story from Hemingway’s life of two teachers who directed his writing by continually handing it back to him to trim. Again. And again. And again. Though their influence was only for a brief period, he developed a tight, lean style of writing. Nothing superfluous. My writing was anything but lean: flowery, verbose, overgrown, and emotional. While life didn’t send me a literary editor, it did send me life editors – gardeners.
Words mean things. Words should mean things. Words should lead us on a course of action, or they should be kept for further consideration until the course of action becomes more clear. Words without action toward an end are just noise, junk food, clutter, flotsam. They get in the way of living, which is a verb, not a discussion. That’s the Hemingway voice inside, the gardener with pruning shears.
I also understand that things take time and sometimes the path of action runs through a period of stabilization where flowers droop and so do people. We talk ourselves through those times, lean on others, get watered and fed, and slowly stand back up again. Many, many times my mother and my sister were that for me, pointing me back to my value, refocusing my perception on the good, just accepting that for that moment I was complaining. Finding the balance is part of a lean life too. That’s the Austen voice inside, the gardener with watering can.
Life will probably send us gardeners with both kinds of tools. But, why wait?
Whatever stage of life we’re in, we can bloom, such as we are. I’ve often been grateful that when there was flotsam in the house that we couldn’t remove, we went outside and played baseball. When the air conditioner went out, we took a road trip to see Thomas the tank engine. When we drove by trains and cranes we pointed them out with excitement, and when the roadside flowers bloomed, we stopped and gathered bouquets. We sat in the grass and made crowns of dandelions and played hide-and-seek between rows of hanging laundry. Whatever else we missed along the way, we seldom missed the blooms, and now we have May roses in September, with December just around the corner. I think I have my mother-gardener to thank for that, who helped me see that the soil needn’t be perfect, the sun needn’t always shine, and the rain needn’t always fall precisely at the moment my roots start to dry, because I can be my own gardener.
As a not-quite-fully-reformed purveyor of flotsam, I often think I should be quiet and do more, taking note of the trays of treats to be served and getting my own frosting bag to help rather than standing and effusing effluents about trivialities. As a parent, I often think other people should be quiet and do more, picking up after themselves and perceiving needs rather than bringing me their tales of woe. Until we get there, however, we throw a cloak of mercy over it all, water here a little, prune there a little, and plant the idea that we are more powerful than we think, that happiness is growing now, blooming wherever we will let it.
Some days my heart is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the influence of those who’ve gone before, influencing my style with words even as I write and edit and erase and rewrite this life story. I still have a lot to learn and a long way to go before I’m even working according to my own ideals. My mother is one of those guiding souls. Her own life was filled with its share of bindweed and briars, dark days and droughts, yet she has always bloomed where she was planted, head down, filling the serving trays, wordless.
- Blooming is an act, not a discussion – a choice, not something that falls in your lap.
- When it doesn’t rain, water yourself.
- If it’s June, bloom; December is on it’s way.
- When life hands you wormy apples, use the good parts.
- Today is too short to throw it away on yesterday or tomorrow.
- Talk with your life, not your mouth.
- What really matters is on a serving tray.
- Bloom where you’re planted.