What a Begonia Taught Me About Going Through Hell

portrait-painter-1This is the story of a survivor. Namely, a Starlight begonia. Like a lot of survivor tales, it isn’t pretty. But bear with me – her story has an important life lesson for all of us.

This begonia began her life with me when I fell in love with the woman who is now my fiancée. I chose her as the perfect house gift on our first weekend together. We found a good spot for her outside, where she thrived during the summer. Then she limped along in a sunny windowsill indoors in the winter.

Finally she died … or so it appeared. We left the begonia for dead in a forgotten corner of the kitchen, and kept meaning to yank her roots and replace her with something young and thriving.

But then one day a small miracle happened as winter was ending. One tiny, tender leaf appeared. Then two. Improbably, after an entire winter of neglect with no sun and no water, a dead plant that was no more than a dried up wisp of a stem came back to life. Right there in a dark kitchen corner, We watered her, put her outside and hoped for the best.

Here’s the most interesting part: the former plant was as light and fluffy as a twirly girl at a prom. But the new plant was far more industrial strength.

This time around she’s clearly built to last, so at first she seemed a little scary. Her main stem is nearly a quarter inch thick, as if she had been toughened by her ordeal. Like Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors.

I had my doubts about the plant, but my partner kept urging me to water her and feed her plenty of worm sludge. “Life wants to live,” she said.

Flowers began to appear – at first just a few. I frowned and shook my head. “She’s never going to be normal,” I fretted. Rachel just patted my arm. “Life wants to live,” she reminded me. So I gave her more water, more worm sludge, and hoped for the best.

The real breakthrough came, however, when we gave her one final dose of neglect. We went away for a week, during which time the starlight begonia baked under the relentless California sun without a single drop of water. I found myself worrying about her while I was gone. Would she be alright?

As if through sheer tenacity – perhaps the tenacity learned in the winter of her neglect – she not only survived, she thrived. I came home to find her putting out new flowers, new shoots, and new leaves. She became an entirely new plant in my absence.

I can relate to the begonia, because this is my story as well.

I was in twirly prom girl mode myself before the bottom dropped out. I, too, became toughened by death, destruction and test after test. What nature proves to us is that if we’re just patient, and we apply enough compost, water and loving attention, our roots can find their way back to life again. They simply, always do.

When we come back, we are stronger, more mature, and seasoned by all that we have learned. This is the way we find our way  to true and lasting peace and happiness. For at this point, we are no longer infatuated with all that sparkles. Now we have become mature keepers of the heart and soul of life.

We know the secret value of ripping away all that was once familiar, and perhaps outgrown. We understand how to compost the old, and so lie fallow for a long time.

On the other side of rest and restoration lie the miracles. And so we are delivered to the next phase of our journey … if we let the magic of life unfold.

Like most things of value, this process takes time. For me, it’s been four year since my midlife meltdown began, but today my life is far better for my losses. I miss the daughter I lost but I have learned to live peacefully – even richly — without her. And I think about that young wife and mother I once was with a certain tenderness.

More importantly, my life is new and fresh again. This is what comes of burning everything to the ground. Each day I learn a little bit more about humility, and how to lay back and let life come to me, without pushing, striding or needing.

So each day I am rewarded. I wake up to another set of possibilities that nudge me forward, like a new flowers unfolding. But then, why wouldn’t my life be full of miracles … including a sson-to-be marriage at the ripe old age of 57?

It’s a fact. Life truly does want to live.

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