Vicki carried the orchid to work one morning and set it on my desk. A white phalaenopsis nearly two feet tall in a beautiful cachepot nestled in a florist’s white gift box. Spanish moss covered the redwood planting bark. Three willowy bloom spikes were supported by thin, green bamboo stakes. Some widely opened snowy blossoms, more on the verge, and swelling buds emerged from the stems. Elegant. Exotic. Breathtaking.
I had never owned an orchid. I had ideas about them though. Difficult to grow. Requiring expertise. Finicky. Expensive.
Orchids were found in homes fit for magazines or television. Their owners were successful, well bred, graceful. Maybe they even spoke French. And drank cocktails.
Orchids were made to show off in parlours, salons, and powder rooms. Grand hotel lobbies. Unaffordable spas
Orchids were special. Owners, like the plants themselves, required special breeding.
One would not find orchids in family rooms where televisions beamed “Oprah” and kids did homework. Homes in which Legos hid buried in carpets and art hung cockeyed on refrigerators, held there by magnets made in kindergarten.
Or in one where the owner worried she couldn’t pay her mortgage.
“This is for you,” she said softly as she placed it front of me. “I don’t know what else to do. I’m afraid there’s nothing.”
Few weeks had passed since my husband’s suicide. Enough time for me to know it was real. Not enough for healing. Sufficient to feel the pain. To wonder every ten minutes how my son and I might get through the next. Ten minutes.
“I do know this,” she continued. “This orchid is beautiful and you should see something every morning that greets you with beauty.
“Put this where you see it first thing when you open your eyes and know that I’m thinking of you. I’ll be hoping that morning is a tiny bit better than the one before it.”
I took the orchid home and set it next to the bed on the table with the clock radio, and the photo of my son. I awakened to it daily. I was immersed in sorrow and though I felt powerless to mitigate it, I could not argue that my orchid stood in stark contrast to the darkness of the pain. Its beauty immeasurable.
There it bloomed for six months, each morning wishing me a day to match its loveliness.
That was 19 years ago. Not since have I been without an orchid blooming in my home. As I write this morning a golden orchid is company on the nightstand next to me. A white phalaenopsis watches from an adjoining bathroom. Another across the hall. A dwarf purple-pink plant greets guests arriving at my home and one that reminds me of the first regal white orchid Vicki gave me shows off in my dining room.
In the time I’ve lived side by side with orchids I’ve learned something. They were designed by the heavens for people exactly like me.
Find your version of an orchid, your translation of beauty. Soon after awakening. As the pain and heaviness of reality positions itself on and around you, reminding you of what you’ve lost, defy it by taking a moment to focus on something beautiful. Allow your senses to feel bewitched if only briefly.
Maybe you’ll find a minute’s bliss in the warmth of a hot morning shower as water washes over you. Or a fragrance you once loved and now barely remember. Perhaps as you walk down the driveway to retrieve the morning paper you’ll notice dew still beaded on the petals of a flower, shimmering on the grass, or clinging to the trees.
You might listen to a piece of music that is your undisputed evidence of God or hear the simple sound of coffee dripping into the pot. Note the unique smell of burnt java as an errant splash hits the warmer. Caress your sleeping child’s soft pink cheek tenderly as he lies on his pillow.
You may not want to do these things. Do they sound meaningless in the face of your pain? These are signs of life moving forward even when you don’t want it to. Let them pull you with them. Give yourself time and space to build new meaning as you’re swept along.
Know when you do, you are really catching a glimpse of your future.
Are you in crisis?