Nectar leaks slowly from the dark red center of each waxy Hoya bloom this morning. The large old plant sits in my sunroom, in front of the sliding glass door that leads out to the second story deck where the birds await their seed and the grill needs to be cleaned from last night’s chicken dinner. The sun breaks through the branches of the tall maple and lends the deck and the sunroom the feel of nature, unusual this close to the city. I write here in the mornings, kicked back in a yellow flowered recliner with my laptop and a cup of coffee. But, in truth, I haven’t written for quite awhile. My last blog was four months ago - that’s a long dry spell. Of course, I have all the right reasons: real life gets in the way; I lack inspiration; my inner critic is winning … the usual.
Today, I will start here, with the Hoya. A cutting from my mother’s plant, it is a vine with deep green leaves that wind round and round the handle of the basket that holds its pot-bound roots. The rich fragrance reaches as far as the kitchen, but only in the evenings and only when it blooms, which is rare. I’ve had this plant for over ten years but found my first bloom just two years ago. That it blooms at all is the envy of my sister, Kathy. She waters hers religiously and keeps it in a good spot, but, still, it never blooms.
The drops of nectar can last for days and this morning they appear like tears. Perhaps they’re for my mother – she’s eighty seven and has ovarian cancer. She’s endured multiple bouts of chemo but is now ready to say ‘enough’. I’m proud of her for choosing that path now, at a time when she’s still up and around. She’s able to walk to the dining room and does chair-exercise every day at her independent living center. Still, she depends heavily on Kathy, the sister who lives nearest to her, making it all the more unfair that it’s Kathy’s Hoya plant that won’t bloom.
I wonder what’s next for my mother – in all likelihood it will be a steady loss of function and friends. Already, I’ve watched in awe as she’s incorporated the deaths of many whom she’s loved - three in the past month alone. One of her chemotherapy agents has made her already thin skin exquisitely sensitive to heat so she rarely bakes her loving gifts of apple pie or strawberry cake anymore. Her day-to-day memory is diminishing along with any hope of watching her great-grandchildren grow to maturity, including my own son’s newborn daughter. And every day she deals with dizziness and pain, abdominal swelling that requires periodic needle taps, and of course, the foreboding loss of appetite … even for ice cream.
I can barely stand it. But she can, and does – with grace. How she does that is my question. She is Catholic and her faith in God is strong, so that helps, but it’s more than that. Her ability to accept what comes her way would impress the most devout Zen Buddhist. Honestly, she counts herself as extremely lucky. Where I see that she grew up poor and without parents, she’s grateful that her older sister and brother kept the family together and “raised ‘em up right”. Despite the deaths of her granddaughter in a house fire and her daughter from Hepatitis C, she sees only her five remaining children and multiple grand- and great grandchildren who are healthy and happy. And there are times that I wonder how she can live another day without her life-long love and best friend, a man who was kind and smart and fun, who took care of many of the details of living. She tells me not to worry; he’s holding a spot for her in heaven. He promised.
So, while I watch her stare down the throat of death, she simply smiles and taps it nonchalantly on the cheek and says, “OK ... but not just yet”.
And me? I stand next to the Hoya plant and swirl in my own discontent. The litany seems long this morning but on top is the impending loss of my mother and my own lack of direction: I’m fifty-four, my life is half over; I’ve changed my career path so I can write, but I’m not writing. What am I doing?
The clear and tenacious nectar simply waits for me. Finally, I touch a drop from one of the waxy blooms and ask the universe - the vague godlike energy of truth and love and nature - to help me find and be the best of me. Aiming for what I vaguely understand to be my chakra energy points, I rub cool fluid between my thumb and middle finger above my head, to remind me that I’m connected to everything and inspiration and comfort are available. I place another drop on my forehead to pull out trust in my own intuition, a third on my lips and throat so I may cut through fear and ego to communicate a respectful truth. I note the hint of sweetness and take a few slow breaths before I place a fourth drop on my heart to remind me to both nestle and release the gift of love. The next drop goes on my skin at the level of my adrenals, my solar plexus, for the energy and the stamina to take on whatever life offers. I linger here long enough to notice the fluid gets sticky as it dries and I know I’ll have little reminders of this blessing all day. Two drops are left. The first of these I rub onto on my lower belly, near my ovaries, to draw out creativity and openness to the new and sensual, and then, warmed by the dappled sunlight and an inner calm, I aim the final drop for the base of my spine as I sense myself connected to the earth, whole, and, in fact, exactly where I need to be.
There, I am blessed. Not by the Catholic God my mother loves, but no less so. It’s different, I know, and in a future blog, I’ll detail my connection with spirituality through nature. But in this moment I’ll simply notice that I feel shored up, more able to emulate my mother’s resilience, at peace with my place in the world. I can wait for the blooms and will breathe in their intoxicating fragrance when I can.
As for today, I’ll upload this writing to my blog, despite its imperfections; and then, after I feed the birds and clean the grill, I’ll email my sister, Kathy, to share what I’ve learned about the Hoya plant while writing this – turns out a long dry spell between watering will actually increase the chance of a bloom.
Upload revision 9-28-09