And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
It’s weird being friends with a hibiscus. Like I said last week, I’m not a plant person. I don’t like digging in dirt. While I love looking at plants, going to botanical gardens, and I love the Domes in Milwaukee, actually caring for plants just isn’t high on my priority list. I tend to forget they need things. Like water.
But near the end of April, a hibiscus in a grocery store waved one of its leaves at me and said, “C’mere.” So I did.
This isn’t my first hibiscus. We moved into our home almost 14 years ago, after going through the painstaking process of having it built. We moved in on my birthday, July 29, 2006. The next summer, after we were settled in, I was out buying a few pots of flowers for the deck when I saw a hibiscus. I didn’t know what it was until I read the label. But its braided trunk and huge orange flowers caught me. I brought it home, and until last winter, the hibiscus first spent the warm months greeting students at our front door and winter months listening to students read their work in my classroom. Then, when I added a Little Free Library to the front niche, the hibiscus moved upstairs, to my third floor deck and spent the winters in my office. I decorated it at Christmas, with little lights and tiny Starbucks coffee cup ornaments. It listened to me work with students and read my own work out loud. It was company. And then, last summer, it died.
I left the pot sitting out on the deck and all winter long, I looked out at those bare branches.
So then, of course, the pandemic hit. In late April, I was making my way nervously into our MetroMarket. I doused myself in hand sanitizer and strapped on my mask. There were plants right outside the door and that is when the hibiscus flicked its leaf and caught my attention.
Braided trunk. And the most stunning pink flower. I stopped and looked. I think I said out loud, muffled by my mask, “Well, aren’t you pretty.” And I took a deep breath.
My mother always told me to never ever ever buy outdoor plants before Memorial Day. But that day in April, a hibiscus, and hope, rode home with me in the back seat of my car. And yes, we had frosts and freezes, so the tree was carried in at night, then carried out again in the morning if it was going to be warm enough.
And I began to talk to the darn thing.
Maybe it’s the isolation of Safer At Home. I’m not going out much right now and haven’t for months. I talk to my students and clients and family on screen or on the phone. I go out for walks sometimes on Waukesha’s Fox Riverwalk, but as I was attacked yesterday by a red-winged blackbird, I don’t think I’ll be going back there anytime soon. I think a lot about the baristas I used to talk to, and the guys at Planet Fitness when I went there at midnight every night. I think about talking to passersby and people in stores and, well, the whole world. Now, talking in person seems to be a dangerous thing to do.
So I talk to my hibiscus.
Whether it’s coincidence or not, she’s putting forth an amazing array of blooms. Her first few weeks, maybe in response to the cold, she kept her branches tucked close, like a Christmas tree that is still wrapped in string. But as time went by, she’s relaxed and the buds just keep erupting. This week, I figured out how to write outside on my deck – previous attempts at dimming the glare have always failed. But a sudden thought about putting my laptop into a box tipped sideways was all the brainstorm I needed. So this week, the hibiscus also listened to me reading out loud as I worked on what I hope is the final draft of my new book. She responded by giving me three more flowers.
I call her Hibby.
This week and last, unthinkable events that began in Minnesota added a layer of hate and anger to what was already layer after layer of stress and fear. Like many, I was left speechless with the shock that what happened to George Floyd could still be happening in this day and age, when I would expect the world to be at a certain level of kindness, compassion, and intelligence. Apparently, we’re not. Before, with the pandemic, every time I stepped outside, it was like walking into a fog of fear. Now, it’s a wall of anger.
And on my deck, the hibiscus keeps blooming. Every morning, I look outside to celebrate her blossoms. I carefully pluck spent flowers (I refuse to call it deadhead) and then admire what has come out wild and alive overnight. Wild, alive, and bursting with exuberance. If a hibiscus could dance, this little tree is dancing. And laughing. And saying, “Look, look, look! See it all.”
The hibiscus reminds me that there is still beauty in the world. With each new bud, I see hope. In her green leaves, I see health and robust joy. I talk to her. She listens. And then she blooms some more.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.