The Audacity to Bloom

Jamal:name.JPGA few months ago, we had some really windy days –the kind that knock down power lines and blow my casement windows open — and a tragic thing happened. Jamal got knocked off our back stairs.

Jamal is a cactus my daughter bought years ago at Ikea. He’s one hell of a cactus. He sat ignored in my daughter’s room for about a year, then got moved to the outside stairs, where he was even more ignored. Occasionally I watered him when I remembered he was even there. But mostly he was forgotten.

Jamal's first bloomJPG.JPG

Jamal’s first bloom!

Until one day when I walked past and he had a glorious yellow bloom bursting from the top of his prickly little head. I couldn’t believe it. I took a picture, told my daughter and we were in awe of him for a few days. Then Jamal’s bloom faded and we went back to forgetting him.

Until this year when the wind knocked him off his perch on our back stairs. I told Milena we needed to get some cactus planting materials and fix him. He’d lost all his stones and most of his dirt, but she claimed poverty.  I kept forgetting to go buy the needed soil and rocks while Jamal sat and waited in his bent, little tin pot.

Jamal's bent pot.JPG

Jamal’s bent tin pot

But did he moan or groan or act like the world was ending? Nope. Not that a cactus could, but I half expected him to do something dramatic and droop or pucker. Instead, he had the audacity to bloom. And this time, he gave us three blooms instead of one.  Plucky Jamal, who was knocked to the ground, probably mostly starved, ignored, and in a beat up pot, not only survived, he produced three beautiful yellow blooms.

The irony wasn’t lost on me. It became even more clear when one of the beautiful roses in my favorite red vase in my kitchen, just up and died.  The rose was in clean water in my cheerful, little kitchen full of white cabinets with red handles, surrounded by other beautiful healthy roses enjoying nice cool days. Yet that carefully tended rose rotted at the stem and died.

the dead rose.JPGWhat the hell? How does a scrappy little cactus survive Beautiful roses.JPGabandonment, a nearly fatal two story fall and loss of its foundation, and not only endure, but produce three flowers — when a perfectly cared for rose just up and dies?

It got me thinking about life and why some people seem to survive when you’d lay bets they wouldn’t, and others seem to wilt when they have it all. I think about things like that probably because I have way too much time on my hands.

Then I heard a Ted talk about grit, and it became clear, that was the difference. The ones who survive have grit, and that’s what makes them hang on, even when you wonder what they’re hanging on for. It was a great talk by a former teacher named Angela Duckworth, who wondered what made some students excel, when others, who were more intelligent gave up.

Jamal's 3 bloomsThis woman’s been studying this phenomenon for years and even she confesses she still doesn’t know what parents can do to instill grit in their children.  My theory is you’re either born with it, or not. But I think parents can nurture it by forcing their kids to do chores and things they don’t want to do because at least it teaches them that, if they can get through the crap, there’s relief at the end.

I think it’s that dream of things getting better that keeps us going. My friend Allegra got through a difficult divorce, then went back to graduate school with three kids in elementary school, and no child support, while working the whole time. She’s now got a great job, her kids are grown and one just graduated. If it wasn’t for her grit, I’m not sure what would have happened to them.

Grit and optimism can keep you blooming even in the toughest times, because you just never know when it’s all going to turn around — and it would be a terrible shame if you weren’t there to enjoy it.



19 thoughts on “The Audacity to Bloom

  1. Thanks, Fran, for your warning about depending on “Fish” who tend to “swim away.” I have experienced that swim-away abandonment in my own life before. I blush to say that I “swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker” more than once in my life. Finally, congrats on your capacity to “keep swimming” in the Pool of Life. [Hugs, to you too!]

  2. Oh Fran, I love this post!! I also know a woman that goes by the name of Perky GRIT and let’s just say Jamal is the perfect plant for her. Love you, Fran

    • That message either means something is greater than something else or the i pad didn’t work. Either way, at least you read my post and tried to comment and for that, I am always grateful! Love you!

  3. Lovely little metaphor on life, m’dear. Blow a kiss to little Jamal from me. Here’s to all who get by on grit!

  4. I also know a “grit” story. Two characters are in it. Let us call one “Fish” – and the other was nicknamed by Fish, as “Perky.” They worked at informing and entertaining folks in the mornings during wake-up time. One day Fish did not show up for work. Perky did not seem to know about his absence until several minutes after “Start-time.” Perky had grit. She started right on time and did her bit. [We, the audience, learned later that Fish had another job elsewhere, and had not told us of it.] Perky, after a long period of unemployment, found a job much better than the Fish-and-Perky gig. That happened because she has, and had, GRIT!
    In closing, may I simply say, “Hello” to Perky – and Goodbye Charlie to the Fish.
    [The names used here are fictitious to protect the innocent – but expose the grit]

    • Love your fish-tale George. Yes, Perky is a girl with a lot of grit. And she’s a damn good friend, mom, writer and cook too.

    • Awww George, you make me want to run right over and give you the biggest hug! Thank you so much for your sweet words and for “getting it.” I did love that gig, but am very happy now, and I learned a valuable lesson, never attach your hopes to a fish, they tend to swim away.

  5. ……I am a Cacti & Succulent aficionado. Jamal Needs a new pot with drainage and in case you don’t know how to transplant Cacti? You use Thongs to handle them. Not the Thongs you wear but the kind to flip burgers on a BBQ.

    • Stevie! You are a wonder! Thank you, I was envisioning special cactus gloves but thongs are much better. I will definitely go out and buy some cactus potting soil and rocks and replant the little guy. He deserves better!

  6. You have no idea how timely this post is for me- I started a new job a few weeks ago and am having a horrible time adjusting. I even went to my car at lunch yesterday to cry. But I know things will get better, cuz YOU said they will!

    • Oh Monica, I am so glad! I wish I was there, I’d re-pot Jamal and hand him over to you so you never forget things will improve. They will, it’s always tough adjusting to a new place. I’m just starting to feel comfy in my new job and I’ve been there since November!

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