When my husband and I moved into this apartment, our backyard was a strip of dirt that lay between our stairs and the garage. Construction debris littered the dirt, and a discarded stove sat on top of it. I asked my landlady if much of this could be removed for a more aesthetically pleasing back entrance to our home, and she complied. Once the junk was gone, I saw that this dirt was also home to a beleaguered rose bush that had seen better days.
The arrival of spring a few months later triggered a new desire in me, the perpetual tenant with homeowner envy: I wanted to try my hand at gardening. My husband set out to help me one day by weeding out and cutting back the unruly bits of green that were popping out of the ground where the debris had been. In his enthusiasm, he nearly hacked the rose bush down to a stub. I should mention here that my husband was a newly arrived immigrant from Senegal who wasn’t used to pruning or even seeing rose bushes. If I hadn’t come home when I did, he might have committed plant slaughter.
Several weeks and several doses of Miracle Grow later, I witnessed my own small miracle: leaves, then buds, and then flowers—deeply crimson—coming forth from the rose bush. I began checking it every day like an obsessive mother, cooing over new blossoms and carefully pruning any overgrowth. Encouraged, I bought some annuals to fill in the rest of the developing garden. We brought colored rocks from the beach for accent, and planted tomatoes, basil, and oregano for our meals. Roots and crawly creatures now replaced the bits of Styrofoam cups, nails, cigarette butts, and wood that previously occupied the dirt. I was thrilled and soothed by this thing of beauty and wonder that we were cultivating outside our door, and I spent a lot of time just staring at it, savoring. I also stopped to smell the roses more than once, grateful for their subtle fragrance.
Three years later I’m more ambitious—adding perennials, climbing vines, and transplants from generous neighbors and my parents’ yard. I also have cutesy garden novelties amid the flowers, and a solar-powered globe that glows in multiple colors at night…eerily thrilling. I peek out every morning to see what’s bloomed since sunrise, and I delight in the birds, butterflies, and bees that visit. I’m still in love with this little garden, but, the other day as I was watering it, I realized something kind of…sad. In my zeal to entertain and challenge myself with new and different flowers and plants, I’d forgotten to be amazed by the roses this year. And there were dozens of them now, showing off as I walked past them to groom a new acquisition.
I bent down to sniff the roses, clipped a small bunch, placed them on in a vase on my kitchen table, and started thinking. What else was I forgetting to be amazed by anymore? Who and what else was I taking for granted as I sought out new experiences, friends, and thrills? How quickly I move on, I realized, ever questing for the next new thing. What about the tried and true? And so I stopped–to look around, pay attention, and find things to be amazed by all over again. The list included: rainbows on my walls, made by a crystal catching the sunlight; the maple and pine trees offering my eyes a green place to rest when I looked up from the computer and out the window; my healthy body, showing up for me every day despite the many times I’d overtaxed it; my parents’ abiding love and concern for me, expressed in a card that sat next to the vase of roses; and the way my husband does the dishes, folds my clothes from the laundry, cooks delicious meals, and tolerates my…moods. The list could go on and on, really, to encompass everything that goes right for me every day, and all the ways in which I’m lucky, safe, well fed and blessed in a world where so many suffer and lack.
It’s amazing, all the things that I should be amazed by. And I plan to remember that, especially when I pass the roses.