Ficus Benjamina

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.

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About Mary Jo Doig

At the turn of the millennium, I arrived at a cross-road that brought me a splendid, if unforeseen place, almost as if I were a traveler on Robert Frost's The Road Less Traveled. I was single again, my three children were grown and building their lives, I'd experienced a health issue and was working on an improved lifestyle. I also ached to do two other things: (1) change my long human services career in upstate New York's Catskill Mountains, where winter seemed to be at least seven months out of every year, and (2) move to a warmer place in the universe. My decision: did I want to continue on the path I'd been following pretty much all my life, or could I gather my then-fragile courage and start life brand new somewhere else? These were scary thoughts for a single woman in her late 50s. Five hundred miles away, though, I fell in love with a new mountain range, Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, where I knew not a soul except my daughter who was attending college in the Shenandoah Valley, and I moved. I rented a tiny cabin on a mountain in the woods and lived there in solitude for two years, working in a new career by day and, when home, communing with the incredible natural beauty that surrounded me. There I also began to write my life stories, which were aching for release. I joined the Story Circle Network in early 2001, a rich place in cyberspace for women life writers, where I strengthened my written voice and began sharing my stories. I grew there in so many ways and today I'm a long-time editor for the "True Words from Real Women" section of the quarterly Journal, as well as a reader and reviewer of women's memoirs for the SCN Book Review site, another unique place in cyberspace. Then, next year, I’ll again be honored to be program chair for our Stories from the Heart national conference in Austin, TX. I have so many loves: first, my three children: my son, Chip and daughter, Polly, both in Virginia; and my youngest daughter, Susan, in Florida, and also dear family and friends. I must also include my cats Hilary (20) and Button (5). Sometimes I foster cats and kittens for the Humane Society, but Button prefers me not to. My hobbies include reading, writing, editing, cooking, gardening, quilting, knitting, biking, and simply being with the profound beauty of the mountains that embrace my small two acres in the Blue Ridge. The life stories I began writing in 2001 have grown deeper with time, re-writes, and personal growth. Now, all these years later, I believe I've sliced through the layers to reach the heart of my story, and am presently working on the final revision of my memoir, Stitching a Patchwork Life.
This entry was posted in Animal friends, Gifts, Gratitude, Health, Mother Nature, Mystery, Simplicity. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Ficus Benjamina

  1. Lee says:

    Mary Jo – your story of the ficus tree is such a great analogy to your own winter of ill health and recouperation leading to renewal. Beautiful story.

    Like

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