When I bought my retirement home last July (though I’m still not retired), the previous owners asked if they could leave their plants, for their household goods would be in storage two weeks and the plants would die. I was thrilled that the beautiful, blooming, braided-trunk Ficus Benjamina would remain on the front deck, where it gave the hummingbirds and me so much pleasure throughout the summer and early fall. Then after one unexpectedly chilly October evening, my heart nose-dived when I discovered its leaves beginning to curl. Over the next several days they all turned brown and I was devastated that I hadn’t known how delicate the tree was. I brought it inside, hoping, as we all do after a death, that this was not true, that I had not really lost my beautiful tree. The tree starkly stood against a living room wall, looking very out of place. My kitten thought he had a new toy and delighted in playing with the falling leaves that littered the carpet while others piled up onto the dirt in the huge pot. Sometimes I pulled off a few leaves, too, and periodically broke off a small branch, hoping to find some sign of life there. I found none.
In denial, I continued to water it and discovered a place in the kitchen by my bay window where the tree looked more natural, despite its bareness, and we both looked daily out into the long, chilling winter days. In January I had surgery and the days of recuperation were incredibly slow. Cards and notes from my family and friends began to encircle the bay window that framed the view of the secluded, young woods outside with its carpet of dried leaves on the frozen ground.
Family and friends also brought me good food, company, and wishes. As I continued to water my brittle-branched ficus, no one asked why I had a dead tree in the kitchen. Seemingly endless days and weeks slowly passed and I wondered if I’d ever feel my old self. Yet, in time, I returned to work half-time, then full-time. Then I got very sick with bronchitis and despaired, in the profound fatigue of yet another recovery, that I’d never regain my former good health.
Yesterday arrived and I opened my windows for the first time this year onto the brilliant warm day. Yet I felt so overwhelmed by all I need to do this spring and my heart was heavy. Later I cleared the kitchen table by the window and, as I walked by the tree I caught a glimpse of green from the corner of my eye. I must be seeing things, I thought vaguely, as I returned for a second look. I was not seeing things though, for there I found the miracle I’d dared not believe could happen: three leaves clustered against the trunk in full, green glorious health facing the bright light of the bay window. I cried out, “Oh, look at that!” in joy as tears filled my eyes.
I returned again and again to the tree yesterday and each time felt a small bit of my own despair leave as I looked deeply into those tender, lovely leaves. I pondered what a long winter we’d both had yet those tiny green marvels consistently and silently spoke their profound truth to me: winter has passed and I can find much grace in the fact that we are both rejuvenating, however slowly that may be.