for release April 5, 2002
by Melodie Davis
An After Easter Story
In the middle of winter, I walked into my office. The philodendron plant that I loved and nurtured for 30 years had totally withered. It looked completely dead. It wasn't just wilted. The leaves had turned brown and wrinkled: graveyard dead.
I was pretty upset. This was a plant that, a day before, had been vibrant, probably full of hundreds of leaves and myriad vines. I know it is just a plant, but when you've had something for 30 years, and it as alive and growing, it is almost a part of your life. I have written about it before because my father had bought it for my very vacant dorm room when I began college because he thought the room needed a "homey touch." He picked it up at the old Woolworth's in our college town.
The plant had gone through a previous "molt" or "almost-dead" time. But I worried that this time around it was especially ominous. A couple days earlier, my mom had gotten me out of bed with a phone call at 7:30 on a Saturday morning. She said, "I don't have good news." You wake up fast when your mom starts off a phone call like that. But Dad was just in the hospital, and they thought he would be okay if they put in a pacemaker. I'm not superstitious, but the timing seemed a little unusual; a little like E.T.
The housekeeper for our building, Doris, who usually waters our plants, was equally bewildered and upset about my plant. She had not changed anything in its care. We debated: too much sun, not enough, too much heat, too much water? I delayed taking off the dead leaves for a couple days, wondering if they would rejuvenate. Finally, sadly, I started cutting all the dead leaves away. I removed everything but two small leaves that still appeared to be a little green. The other vines I cut back to stumps. They looked dead. My plant was very naked. I really didn't have much hope for the plant.
But you can guess the rest of the story: soon new leaves appeared, and then one day I noticed fresh green shoots out of the brown little stumps. It was exciting! Doris and I rejoiced together. The new shoots seemed to grow a quarter of an inch overnight. I also found a very gross fungusy-looking thing, and wondered if it could have caused my plant's sudden near-death episode.
In a way, it's more fun watching my plant now, because the leaves are more visible. The plant had been stripped of everything superfluous: now I can see shoots and leaves I never saw before. It has a new life, and it gives me hope.
I'm made to think of the legend of the Phoenix. The Phoenix was a bird, and it was said there could only ever by one Phoenix in existence at any one time. In some stories, the Phoenix lives 100, 500 or 1000 years. When it grows to advanced age and knows that death is near, the Phoenix hides itself and builds a nest of aromatic wood and rare spices. The heat of the sun lights the fire and the Phoenix fans flames with its wings until the bird itself is consumed by the flames. It burns, but out of the ashes arises a new life: a new Phoenix bird, a beautiful symbol of hope and rebirth.
Then of course we have the example of every butterfly, which goes through a similar cycle. A lowly caterpillar lives out its existence, plodding along the earth. Then one day it spins a chrysalis. For all practical purposes, it dies. Then another fine day, it emerges from the chrysalis to become a gorgeous butterfly, flitting about the sky, freed from its humdrum, plodding, earthbound existence.
My mind also goes of course to Easter, where Christians have just celebrated the rebirth of Jesus out of the stone-cold tomb. I always think, well if the caterpillar can change its form from worm to butterfly, why is it so farfetched to believe in the resurrection? Why couldn't there be a real heaven, where we will surely have changed body forms? Why is it so hard to imagine ourselves flitting about, if you will, like butterflies or angels? Who knows?
Never give up hope. When all is brown and withered and depressed, maybe we just need to pare our lives back to the essentials; an apt reminder for when serious illness comes to your family. Serious illness always gives us a wake up call, and reminds us of how much our family and friends mean to us.
P.S. The pacemaker keeps Dad nicely ticking. At least for now. But I don't really fear for the future for him because he plans to spend it in a much better place.
Send your comments to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
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