I surprised myself the other evening when I looked up from my device to realize I’d spent 15 whole minutes admiring a photograph of a magnolia flower posted on a social media site by a friend.
I’m not much of a hand at growing things. I picked beans and pulled carrots from my folks’ garden on the farm, but I never tried to grow one of my own. I never had the urge to try. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been very successful if I had. I have neither the patience nor the unwavering commitment it must take to have a lovely garden of flowers.
We inherited a peony plant when we moved to our new place last August. In the late summer heat, it was basically a clump of dry sticks. Several folks assured me that it would grow and blossom come the next spring. It did, too, kind of. A small bush came up green not long after the last snow, and through the end of April and most of May, three buds clung stubbornly to stalks that emerged from the greenery. As May turned to June, those buds became flowers. The flowers were rather attractive, actually, although three flowers for that much greenery seemed like we’d inherited an under-achiever. Still, it was a splash of color beside some of the driest grass you’ll ever see.
The other day, quite suddenly, after a few minutes of wind and scattered rain, all three peony flowers slumped over and dropped many of their petals. They looked a lot like a Hobo Day mum after the parade and game on a hot, early-October Saturday. “Hopeless,” I muttered to myself. “Just hopeless.’’ Which is what I’d been feeling, anyway, what with the virus and the fights over being careful and being bold, and then the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
Then I saw that photo of the brilliant, white magnolia flower. Yes, my inherited peonies may have wilted, but this magnolia didn’t. It’s way too simplistic, but it made me feel a bit of hope. That probably had less to do with the flower than with the person who posted the photo. That was Chuck Raasch, a Castlewood kid who earned his journalism degree here in South Dakota and then spent much of his long, remarkable reporting career covering politics and other national events. Chuck has seen more of the dark, seamy and hopeless side of life in the United States than most people ever will. Even so, he frequently reminds friends to stay positive, to look at the best in America, to have hope.
For no special reason, thinking of Chuck, his flower and his optimism made me think of “The Shawshank Redemption.’’ That’s the movie in which Andy Dufresne escapes prison and writes to his friend, “Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.’’
That’s just about as hokey a line as “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,’’ but each line works well in its respective movie. Indeed, hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And if looking at a picture of a flower posted by my friend reminds me to have hope, well, then, having optimistic friends is a good thing, too.
If I need further optimistic reminders, all I have to do is consider my two pregnant granddaughters. Each is due to deliver near the end of summer, so they’re well into their pregnancies. These are young women who have faced challenges in their early lives, who have lived nearly their entire lives with type one diabetes. They know enough about the world to understand that there are a lot of bad things out there and that bad things can happen to good people. Even so, each has chosen to bring new life into their lives and this uncertain world. Pretty courageous, I’d say. And pretty hopeful.
Asked to speak of children, Kahlil Gibran said, “They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.’’
Life’s longing for itself. Can’t get much more hopeful than that.