A Lilac Bush and an Open Heart

I grew up with a purple lilac bush. During springtime, I remember its colorful blooms and vibrant aroma. When my parents downsized to a condo, I expressed interest in the lilac. Not to dig it up (it was far too big), but to propagate a child of the plant here in my Wisconsin backyard.

That’s when I learned the lilac bush was itself a child, born from a cutting provided by my grandma. From Michigan farm to small-town Iowa and, hopefully, to my yard. I researched lilac transplanting—woody cuttings and root runners. Dad tried different techniques and passed pieces to me (directly or indirectly) whenever family was together.

I tended my lilac with love and care. I fed it root food and watered daily. For two years, it was merely a stick. And then a stick with a few leaves. My friend Jen, an experienced and pragmatic gardener, said, “Hmmm. Not sure this will make it.” But I really wanted this plant to live. It was a bush from my grandparents' farm, passed through my dad. It was a chance to begin anew. When grandma was still alive, I hadn’t yet begun my gardening practice. The lilac was a way to connect with her—a life-long gardener—in a new way.

While at a large water fountain, I threw in a penny, silently saying, “My deep wish is that grandma’s lilac lives and grows.” I kept nurturing, watering, and tending, but I also saw my limitations. Indeed, this plant might not live. Just as people I love don’t always live. External circumstances are not in my control. This was internal practice in patience, hope, and equanimity.

Last year, my little bush presented its first blooms. (Jen said, “Incredible! If you moved tomorrow, this would be the one plant you’d take.”) As I write this post, the lilac stands taller than me and bursts with flowers, which smell just as I remember from childhood. I call the bush “grandma," and I think of her each time I water and tend, or whenever I notice new growth.  I also think about my dad. He was equally committed to nourishing this plant, just as he supported me as a child and befriends me as an adult.

I realize not everything works out like this. My lilac required attention, nurturing, and care, but also experienced luck. Luck not found by wishing on a penny, but luck that randomly floats through the world, out of my control. Knowing that life is complicated and heartbreaking, I choose to celebrate ordinary moments of beauty, love, and grace. These moments surround me, especially when I slow down and pay attention. 

There’s wisdom in my own backyard. A little lilac bush reminds me: life is uncertain, so anything is possible.

Mindfulness Teaching