In Atlanta we have the luxury of planting pansies in the fall and viewing their curious faces all winter long. That is how my grandma described their blooms -- as faces. If you look into a pansy’s velvet petals you can see its eager expression peeking out at you. It was my grandmother’s love for this flower, which drew me to Viola tricolor hortensis when I was a little girl. My favorites were the white petals with purple centers, or “faces”. They remain my favorite flowers today.
Since pansies are annuals, last years’ flowers had long since died and been pulled from the ground, never to be seen again. I hadn’t taken the time to plant even one flat of pansy seedlings this fall. Actually, I hadn’t found the time to do much of anything but work since September. My job had become especially demanding, due to a project which required me to fly weekly to Washington DC. Between airports, delayed flights, cancellations, taxi cabs, trains and countless hotel rooms, I hadn’t spent enough time with my husband, hadn’t returned phone calls from my parents, hadn’t sent birthday cards to my dearest friends, hadn’t taken the necessary time to come to terms with the death of my grandma, and certainly hadn’t made time to put pansies in the ground.
Perhaps by skipping the whole pansy planting process this autumn, I was putting off facing the reality that Grandma, the only grandparent I had ever known, had died.
My connection between her and the flowers was so strong. I told myself I was too busy for gardening enough times that I convinced myself it was true.
As I drove home from the airport one chilly November evening, I was overwhelmed by an empty pang in my heart. It had begun as a slight ache last Thursday, and had built up to a deep hollow throb after five days straight of deadlines, lists, conference calls and meetings. I hadn’t allowed any time for myself to read, to visit with friends and family or even to pray. I had tried to ignore this vacuous feeling. I had just kept going and going like a robot following programmed commands, forgetting about all of the things in life that gave me deeper meaning. The pain was especially great this particular evening due to a canceled flight, which delayed my getting home until long after my lonely husband was already in bed.
After fighting eight lanes of stop and go traffic for over an hour, caused by what appeared to be a fatal accident, I arrived frazzled and tired in my suburban neighborhood. As I pulled into my driveway, my headlights shone into the empty flowerbeds. By their beams, I glimpsed something white resting on the ground. I parked in the garage and walked around to the front yard to collect what I assumed was a piece of garbage and throw it away. But, I did not find any trash. Instead I found a lone white pansy with a purple face flourishing by itself in a barren bed of pine straw.
The determined flower had fought all odds to spring from a ripped up root, which is not bred for regrowth, and to return this year. It didn’t seem possible, and maybe it wasn’t. Yet, here was a perfect posy grinning at me and asking me from its remarkable face, why I too couldn’t break through the soil and let myself bloom.
If loved ones who have passed away can speak from the dead, I knew this was Grandma’s way of letting me know that although she had left this earth, she wasn’t really gone. Just like the pansy, which had been pulled from the dirt yet was still blossoming, my grandmother’s spirit would always flourish inside my heart.
Grandma would have never put work first. Her family and friends were the priorities in her world. She didn’t know the meaning of timetables or of deadlines. Although her life was simple, she was always happy and saw only the good in others and the beauty in the world around her.
It was time to open my heart and my eyes to the important things around me, to fill the empty hole inside me with the nourishment which only God, family and friends could give me. Work could wait. Life, as the pansy showed me, could not.
Laura L. Smith