I am back after a much needed break: to take in my birthday and related activities; to recover after a fall (as if I needed a reminder of the vulnerability of my aging body), to focus on the unrest throughout the country that has left me both heartbroken and hopeful, and closer to home to attempt to assuage my own unrest. I’ve been trying to locate a reset button to build up my resilience for the next few months or however long the pandemic continues to severely impact families like ours. I can’t change the circumstances so I need to find a way to sustain the relative good humor and healthy attitude I’ve somehow managed to keep up so far, to stop from slipping and settling into dread and impatience.
It helped to receive an unexpected present to uplift my spirits, a generous gift card to our local garden center from my siblings, father and all my cousins, of which I am the youngest. I am so touched by their thoughtful offering to help offset the unimaginable events around this birthday (which originally had included plans to go away for a weekend with my family). Instead we had a scaled down celebration with delicious Israeli take out and a flourless chocolate cake made by the baker brothers, and a visit to purchase plants to make a perennial garden, to add beauty to the home in which we are stuck for the foreseeable future.
While we have some perennials in front of the house that were planted before we moved here, the backyard is a large unlandscaped space with a trampoline and swings and hammock and scattered chairs, reflecting the active chaotic nature of our home life. Much of it is sheltered by big old trees that provide wonderful relief from heat in the thick of summer but also create challenges to growing anything requiring sunlight . Tomatoes struggle to turn red even in the brightest spot in my vegetable garden. I barely have time to tend to them, despite the pleasure they bring.
But I’ve long said that someday I’d grow flowers too, that my fondness for things that bloom would not just be as as a visitor or fan but as a grower. From having a plot in an untamed East Village community garden in which I mostly grew herbs, and working with Green Guerillas – a coalition of urban gardeners – and weekly trips to the Greenmarket a block from my apartment to regular visits to the Conservatory Garden in Central Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, I’ve always surrounded myself with seasonal blooms.
And now as a suburban householder, I walk Ruby and note species of animals and plants: the old Italian man with the cats and roses, the woman with the Shih Tzu and magnolia tree, the Rottweiler with rhododendron. Most in my neighborhood seem to have a green thumb or some landscaping help and I have neither. Still I persist in trying to grow things and I am happy to add flowers to the mix.
And so I now have several groupings of plants and rocks and places to remind me of everlasting love and growth. I sit and stare at these gorgeous gifts and feel loved. There’s wisdom that comes from age and I’m grateful to have enough of both to recognize that it doesn’t get any better than this.
The one plant I add to the perennials is impatiens, which can thrive in shade, and is the perfect species for our yard and for this time. I’d call impatiens the official flower of Summer 2020. I can’t think of anything more challenging right now than having patience. The original Latin definition is bearing affliction calmly.
We tell others to be patient all the time but it’s really difficult to sustain, requiring an unsung strength to maintain forebearance under distress. Patience is something we demand of children – often unrealistically, or at least we don’t model it well; something we expect of women, especially caregivers; and assume our elders have in spades from the tenacity they’ve developed over the years.
But to remain steadfast despite adversity is hard, and I realize though I’ve spent years cultivating acceptance of the challenges in my life, patience is another matter. I can remain calm on the surface, tolerant of all sorts of setbacks yet still impatience is like a muffled scream it takes effort to repress so it doesn’t eat at me. And my goal is to deflect rather than stifle it.
Impatience in many situations is fully warranted of course: at longstanding problems that don’t get resolved like injustice and racism and police brutality. Being fed up can be a great motivator for change, and there’s so much right now that needs fixing. I realize the need to redirect my impatience, at best it could spread outward, towards the wrongs in our country we collectively can tackle. Hopefully peacefully, with broad coalitions that work to dismantle systemic problems rather than harm people or property. But that’s a work in process.
For now I have both the impatience at daily life that I cannot alter, that I fear won’t go away any time soon; and the impatiens that brighten my lawn that I know are a short-lived pleasure.They won’t come up next year; we’ll need to replant them.
The perennials, by definition return year after year, and hopefully circumstances will be different by next Summer. There’s something so reassuring in the continuity of plants in our unpredictable lives. Next year I will sit and stare in awe again but everything else – or at least some things – will be entirely different. Can I conjure the patience to let those things take their due course, in ways I cannot predict or understand? For now I try to bear affliction calmly and celebrate each new bloom that will come and pass like everything else.