Only a week old and already wilting with the smell of decay. I actually like the odor of decomposing flora and fauna, especially in a city apartment in winter, with snow and ice outside, the promise of spring nowhere in sight. Usually I cut back the stems and put the roses in a smaller vase to make them last longer. But not this time. This time the gift of roses was more than special; it was a sign of life itself.
For many years, decades really, an old, very dear friend, very far away, has been sending me roses for my birthday despite the fact we haven’t seen each other in over thirty years. But on my last birthday this past December, no roses arrived. Since my friend is elderly, I presumed that he had passed away. I have always known that the lack of birthday roses would probably be the only indication I would have that he was no longer in the physical world.
This last birthday was doubly sad as it also marked the death of my last surviving uncle. Those like myself who know death as the beginning of another journey and not an end, can still mourn the passing of those we have cherished.
And then, almost four weeks late—the birthday roses did arrive! My friend was still with me, apologizing for his tardiness, explaining that he had been in hospital. Oh, joyous day!
When we speak of a person in “the flower of life” or the “flower of youth,” we usually think of bodily health. Beauty of form, an active mind, perhaps emotions brimming over with a passionate zest for life. But flowers have their life span as well. And who is to say that a decaying rose is any less lovely than one in full bloom? Or the fragrance of decomposition any less sweet? I will cherish this particular bouquet even as the petals begin to fall.
And still there is more. For as I passed in and out of the room where the roses grace the corner by the window, I didn’t have to look in their direction to know they were there as their swampy smell grew stronger by the day. It was then I thought of taking a picture, maybe writing a blog about them. When I came up very close to the blooms and stared them in the face, I noticed how most of them had just drooped, hanging their heads as if they’d given up. Whereas a few others still held up their darkened heads, despite an obvious weariness, allowing me a view into the black cave of their center.
And still, it wasn’t until after I had taken the photo that I noticed the picture hanging above the now aging bouquet. The picture I framed of flowers painted by my little boy, so lovingly and proudly presented on a Mother’s Day long ago. And I thought, what a wonderful juxtaposition—the bright painted flowers which will never die, and the dying roses from my friend—the gift that showed me he was still alive…