When this Bird of Paradise flowering plant was set next to our little pond over four years ago I did not really see it. Then two feet tall, with wilted, brown-tinged leaves and no blooms, what I saw instead was the majestic ten-foot specimen I’d seen in Pátzcuaro, Mexico, graced with dozens of bright flowers.
Over time my unrealistic expectations of this hardy little plant have not taken into account so many factors: its age, the health of the soil that feeds its roots, the variables of weather, the number of sunbirds that pollinate it with their feet, to list just a few. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ruffled through its narrow leaves in search of the purplish, swollen offshoots on the stems that promise flowers, and having found none, sent the poor thing unjust, maligning thoughts.
Yet each year our now taller, fuller Bird of Paradise plant blooms two or three times, sending out orange, white, and blue flowers that soar out of the ground on thin green stalks. Each time I’m ecstatic, as if on the receiving end of an inexplicable event. As I write this there are nine glorious flowers in various stages of bloom.
Forty-two months into this relationship with a plant, I am learning that expectations are seductive, filling some yearned-for fantasy that is just that—fantasy. Living with the reality of what is right before me, be it two flowers in a drought year, or something about a situation or person, is liberating. Like swinging high in a swing, watching the clouds change shape with each upward pump of my legs.
Everything and everyone has a singular journey. My own has now come to include walking alongside, quietly respecting the space that exists — unnamable and unseen — between.