All summer long, my hibiscus plants greeted people at my front door with their exotic tropical beauty. As elegant focal points in the ornamental containers on my porch, they have been languidly unfolding their delicate blossoms since May.
Usually, when fall rolls around, I pull my spring flowers and replace them with hardy mums, but this year I couldn’t do it. The mild fall weather had granted my tropical beauties an extension on life, and I couldn’t bear to take that gift away from them.
Now here we are halfway through November. The weather forecast called for our first freeze the other night. Visitors to my house suggested that I clip the last remaining hibiscus blooms and bring them inside to float in some water. I considered doing so, but I couldn’t bring myself to sever the flower from the plant, from the very thing that had been its support structure for the last six months.
I awoke the next morning expecting to see the hibiscus leaves yellowed from the frost, and for the flowers to have lost their vibrant orange color and withered. I didn’t think my tropical beauties could have survived the harsh Ozark cold.
But, they did.
And what shocked me the most was that the sweet potato vine, which cascaded out of the same planter as the hibiscus, had succumbed to the the cold, its leaves pale and wilted, and speckled with dark spots.
The plant that I expected to soldier on through the harsh weather, didn’t; yet the delicate plant that I didn’t expect to bloom again, did.
We have similar expectations about people, don’t we? We brand some people as sensitive, unable to handle much stress or discord without succumbing to a breakdown. Others, with their strong, confident exteriors, we expect to take life’s challenges in stride because “they can handle it.”
But there are times and situations which arise that test all of us, and we often discover that what’s at our very core contradicts everything that people have perceived about us. And sometimes it surprises the heck out of us, too.
For instance, a decade ago I would have considered myself a hibiscus. I was a stay-at-home mom who was content tending to my children and allowing my husband to make the decisions in our home.
Then divorce came and shook up my world. I was devastated. Like a hibiscus, my DNA had been programmed to survive in a certain, controlled environment, and now the frost had set in. Would I survive?
I did. And not only did I survive, but in the following months and years, I bloomed. Circumstance had forced me to reach inside my core to find my resilience.
During this transitory time of my life, my friend Kristin was a buoy for me. Smart, confident, and fierce as a tigress, she always knows what to do in any situation, and immediately does what’s needed.
The first year I was separated, Kristin rang my doorbell a few weeks before Christmas. When I opened the door, she said, “Let’s decorate your house!” She knew that the task ahead of me would be daunting: making my marital home festive while my own family – my support system – was hundreds of miles away in Chicago. But that’s just Kristin. She’s a warrior who magically appears at the battle lines, and never seems to need to rest.
But a few years after my separation, I sat across from Kristin, holding her hand, and watched as silent tears trickled down this warrior’s face. She had just received some devastating news about her husband, and she was petrified. I’d never seen this strong woman so vulnerable before. It was a bittersweet moment; my heart ached for her, yet I felt honored. My connection to her had deepened because she had taken a risk and exposed a chink in her armor to me.
We all are guilty of perceiving others in certain ways. But, like the hibiscus and the sweet potato vine, changes in our circumstances can test us, allowing us to reveal other facets of our personalities that often surprise us.
Sometimes we bloom, and sometimes we rest.