Dad taught me a lot about growing roses. He actually knew nothing about growing roses when I was a kid. At least that is what he told me. At that age when the ‘why’ question applied to everything, naturally I asked, “why are you growing them then?” His answer: there is nothing so beautiful and rare as a rose.
Suddenly, my child mind desired only to realise what this rare and beautiful thing might be.
I started following him every time I saw him headed to the rose shrubs, scrawny twigs really, that he had carefully pushed into the ground on the far side of our house. Usually my insatiable curiosity drove him mad and he would send me off. But, when it came to roses, his focus remained on the pitiful twigs he tended. I was not always certain he even heard my chatter. His focus is what remains uppermost in my imagery to this day.
While I watched and questioned poor dad’s every move, my eyes took in the strange things he did for those rose shrubs. ‘Why are you adding dirt, dad? There’s already dirt.’ Each plant requires its own form of nutrients, he answered. ‘You don’t look sure, dad.’ He always agreed by saying, “I’m learning. Learning means making mistakes. Not all these shrubs may live.” This one was a real shocker… Dad is saying he is not perfect! I did not notice then, but that revelation invited me to become his associate in learning about growing and tending roses.
It dawns on me now that becoming my Father’s coworker in growing roses evolved into much more than roses. Some of the first twigs died eventually, despite dad’s efforts. ‘Now what, dad?’ before recognising that he already had another twig to push in the ground. ‘Why didn’t those other rose plants die, dad?’ Good question, he informed me. In the south, the word ‘ruminate’ was popularly used. When dad stood observing his plants, doing nothing else, and I asked why, he answered, “Rumination is good for the soul.” Whatever that meant! but that sort of reply took root in my awareness too.
Over the years I watched him push rusted nails in the dirt close to the base of the twig; carefully press coffee grounds around the base of the plant; clear out any weed whatsoever that dared to push up within the vicinity of the shrubs. And much more, all to get these obstreperous plants to grow. When I helped by mimicking his rose tending, the thorns often nabbed me. Complaining to my Father about this attribute of his favoured plants, he explained the thorns are the rose’s way of protecting itself.
The whole thorn thing really bothered me. How could anything be worth going through thorns? The illusive answer to this mystery simply cannot arrive in the mind that is uninterested in the outcome. Explanations seldom explain. My attention wandered often from dad’s rose project. School demanded so much time and effort, avoidance of effort in my case. Winter and the twigs lost all their leaves. I figured they were a lost cause. Besides, I was having a hellish time in grade school.
The outdoors, beyond the windows of prison, I mean school! called and called my attention away from the barking of my frustrated teacher. Staring out those windows, I used to visualize in detail which route to run when the final school bell rang. The day came when I arrived home to drop my homework before escaping outside to play, that my stepmom said, “Go outside to see your dad. He’s waiting for you.” I found him by the, still small, rose shrubs. Smiling, he wordlessly beckoned me closer. Near the top of the shrub, a yellow rosebud radiated surprising colour.
The shrub was still covered in thorns; however, now I understood their purpose. This rosebud just opening was a delicate thing, a purity. This rosebud promised uncompromised beauty. This rosebud manifested through contemplative intention that never lost focus on the reward. Dad clearly gained much joy from his rose projects. We moved into a bigger house later and right away, he started planting roses there too. He used to photograph my sisters and I every Easter by the rose bushes in bloom. We tittered over his sweet declaration each year, “My beautiful and rare roses, each one of you.”
Years later, I started planting roses wherever I resided. Until recently, I forgot to ask why. What makes the experience of a rose so rare and beautiful? How did those words capture my imagination? Surely, we all experience the answer to my questions, while simultaneously taking the momentary wonder and joy of anything beautiful for granted. Dad sincerely desired to multiply the rare experience of beauty in his own life. And the only way to fuel such a goal is by giving focused love to it. Nothing else has the power to get one through the thorniness of life’s wild storms.
There’s an old poem that I never quote correctly, because there is only one line that I know by experience. All souls will crawl across the barren, hot, and unforgiving desert for just …one …single …. drop …of love.
There is a potential rare gift at the end of every effort...when one pours their own love into realising this kind of beauty. Is it worth it?