Last year I celebrated a milestone birthday soon after the coronavirus arrived. My sister had planned a family party, but of course it had to be scrapped. I was disappointed but not undone, and I made plans for a solitary but cheerful celebration.
My family and friends, however, were not content to leave it at that. Cards, flowers and presents started arriving the day before my birthday. Because of the upheaval caused by the virus, I was not expecting anything, and I was as surprised and excited as a little kid.
One of the gifts from my three nieces and my nephew was a plant in a flowerpot. It looked like a tiny tree with slender stems and branches, and the instructions said that it would grow miniature pink roses. I was enchanted; pink roses are my favorite flower. Though I am not blessed with a green thumb, I did my best to keep my plant healthy. I placed it on a windowsill, gave it as much sunlight as possible and watered it regularly.
It thrived, and it began to put out buds. Eventually it held seven vivid, pink roses. I loved it, and I cared for it with delight throughout the spring and summer. When autumn arrived, however, its stems turned brownish, and its leaves, like tree leaves, turned yellow and brown and began to fall. I kept watering it, but it looked more and more dry and forlorn, and finally it appeared to have expired. I was sad to lose it, and sadder because I felt that its demise was somehow my fault. I couldn’t bear to throw it away, so I put it on my kitchen counter.
One evening in November I walked past it, and something caught my eye. It was sprouting bright, spring-green leaves. I was astounded. How could a dead plant put out green leaves? Could it be that it was not dead after all? I began to water it again.
Soon after, I noticed buds. This time I really could hardly believe my eyes. Rosebuds? In December? But there they were, and after a week the green leaves that tightly wrapped the largest bud had parted enough to reveal a bright pink petal.
I sought advice from a former neighbor who is a master gardener. She told me that I had probably over-watered my little rose plant, and it had succumbed to the excess. Then, when I left it untended, it had dried out and come back to life.
I started putting my plant on a windowsill again and moving it around my apartment to catch the most sunlight. I gave it less water. More buds appeared. To my delight, the first rose to bloom was wide open on Dec.12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It reminded me of the miraculous roses that Mary gave to St. Juan Diego as a sign for the archbishop.
Buds have continued to appear, and my newly flourishing plant has given me not only pink roses, but also some thoughts for the year ahead:
Just because I didn’t do all the right things to keep something alive—a plant, a project or maybe some kind of self-improvement effort—doesn’t mean that it’s too late to start over.
Just because something looks dead doesn’t mean it is. A friendship, a cherished goal, a career change, a renewed spiritual life—they might appear to be beyond reviving, but a closer look could reveal leaves that are still green—the color of hope.
The Church begins the calendar year Jan. 1 with the feast of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to present God’s request—an invitation that would change her life, and our lives, profoundly and forever—Mary said yes. For those of us who seek to make changes, great or small, there is no better advocate we can turn to, and no better time than now, when the year and our hopes are fresh and new.
Roses can bloom when you least expect it.