By Kimberly Phinney
April 10, 2015, was easily one of the worst days of my life. It was one of those days when everything you know changes in a second. It was the kind of day that brings you to your knees faster than you can comprehend the reasons.
Yet in this present aftermath, as I survey the remains of the day, I find myself thinking about the blooms on my orchid just outside my window. I study them as they silently reach for heaven, as they bloom with a pace slower than the hour hand on my wall clock that drags its silent course, and I ask them, What are you trying to tell me, sweet ones?
And then I listen…
…It was just last June when the blooms fell off my orchid—I thought for good. And what was left was a lifeless brown-green stick with shriveled leaves that called on death. To me, it had to be pitched. What was its purpose now?
At this time, my mother, a consummate gardener, was staying with us, and she scolded me good for thinking such a thing.
“What are you doing?” she asked, as my arm extended the sad looking plant into the garbage. Disapproval tinted her kind face. I had crossed the line.
“Orchids are perennials. They bloom every year… You can’t throw that away!” she ordered.
“But it looks dead, Mom—”
“So!” she countered.
“Okay. Okay.” I said. “So what am I supposed to do with it until then?”
“You water it! You nurture it! And I promise you it will bloom again.”
I was doubtful as I surveyed the sad, dried up leaves and its bloomless stem. I hadn’t been very good to that little plant, but I knew I better listen to my mother and shape up. Mothers are always right about these things, even when we lack the belief.
The orchid was nothing to look at, but like my mother instructed, I nurtured it for many, many months. I watered it. I rotated it. I trimmed away the dead. I looked at it. I read by it (because that’s what introverted English majors do). I was better to it now then when it was beautiful and bloomed.
The time went by: July, August, September… No blooms… Then October, November, December, and January… Surely, there were no blooms then. Finally, the Florida spring came. February… Then March…
I was losing faith. It had been so long that I forgot what the blooms even looked like…
…Then April 10th happened, and everything changed at the sound of a bloodcurdling howl. And in that moment, all I recognized was my body’s panicked response like those “out of body” experiences we all read about. My ears burned like wildfire and my heart battled against my chest with a Bahoom bahoom bahoom bahoom…
And then I was running to my husband’s pleading voice in our backyard.
“Get out here! Help! Something happened to Caesar!”
Caesar is our beloved pit-bull rescue. We’ve had him for nine years, and he’s changed our lives. He’s our powerhouse and our heart, all in one.
Ever the athlete, Caesar went out like a champ. Sprinting across our half acre after a tennis ball, Caesar snapped in midair and came down hard on the earth. He writhed in such a grotesque way that my husband let out the same empathetic cry that Caesar did as he howled into the sky.
It was those screams I heard and came running.
My first sight enveloped me with abject terror as I watched Michael heave Caesar’s limp body into his arms. And then I saw Caesar’s eyes. They screamed more than his cry did and begged for us to help him.
And I can’t stop seeing his eyes…
The ride to the pet ER was the longest thirty minutes I’ve had to live in quite some time. In the back seat, I struggled to keep Caesar calm, but his body was attacking him with betrayal. His entire posterior—hips, legs, and tail—was paralyzed, while his own heart was beating so hard against his chest I was sure I would catch it in my hands.
But all I could think was This is the ride to his end… This is the ride to his end…
And by the look of Michael’s eyes in the rearview mirror, he was thinking it too.
And I can’t stop seeing his eyes…
After hours at the vet, we heard good news and then bad news and finally some better news. No, we weren’t going to have to put Caesar to sleep. Thank you, God! But Caesar was paralyzed. No, God, please! But with extensive rehabilitation and time, his prognosis for regained mobility was optimistic. Thank, God!
…And now comes the hard-work. The hard-work that demands months of commitment and hope with no promise. The hard work that requires faith where there is no proof…
But that’s where the orchids come in, as I stare at them whenever I pass by and ask them again and again, What are you trying to tell me, sweet ones?
The week before Caesar’s accident, those much-nurtured, much-anticipated orchid blooms finally came in. There will be at least a half-dozen of them when the blooming is done, and they are more beautiful than I ever remembered, pure white with speckled magenta. Maybe it’s because they really are more beautiful than I remembered? Or maybe it’s because of how long I waited? Or how long I cared for them, even when there was no evidence except a promise that they would return?
I say, “Now.” And the orchids say, “Wait.” I plead, “But when?” And the orchids say, “Believe.” There is a lesson here for me—for us all. The pattern of nature is our pattern of praise. I’ll say it again one more time for me. The pattern of nature is our pattern of praise. For everything, there is a season. In the bleakness of winter, there is promised growth beneath the powdered snow where growth cannot be seen. What looks dead can be revived. What is lost can be found. It’s a sad thing that desolate times are promised to come, but so are the blessings. Nature shows us what survival looks like, what life looks like, and how we ought to find praise in it all.
The slow, quiet nature of the orchid tells us to “Wait, nurture, and believe.” Had I not heeded my mother’s advice, I would have missed a second bloom. Had I not witnessed the orchid bloom’s miraculous reappearing, I would have lost this opportunity of enlightenment and comfort.
I am not entirely sure there is a reason for everything. But I do believe in every thing, we must find our own reasons.
So maybe Caesar is my next orchid. With his paralysis, we officially left spring and entered the dormant cold of December. The bloom is officially gone, and we don’t know when or if it will ever come back. But we will “Wait, nurture, and believe.” We will commit to rehab as if his mobility is a promise, and we will do the good work.
There is no doubt that it’s a tragedy when the bloom falls off of anything in life, but I’m choosing to look at suffering in a new way. Not as an interminable circumstance that must be endured, but rather as a cold season that will positively yield a spring.
The poignancy of this moment reminds me of a favorite quote in Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast:
“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen…”
So wait and believe, my friend.
The orchids will come.
Spring will finally reside.
And as for me? I’m going to keep believing that Caesar will walk again.
Photography is property of Phinney Photography.