I am not much of a gardener but I seem to have an affinity with roses. It may be because I am their namesake, or it could be because they are sturdy glorious plants that are not easily killed. When we moved into the farmhouse I discovered a few wild rose bushes along the fence line. I donned some gloves and took to the largest rose bush with secateurs. I relied on instinct as I removed some of the tangled branches. I periodically stood back to observe my handy work before trimming a little more from here and there. I was paid handsomely for my work when a number of buds appeared shortly afterwards.
I watered the rose bush and checked on the progress of the buds. One morning, to my great delight, a stunning red rose appeared. I was so excited!
At first the crimson petals were tightly bound together above a long thorn covered stem, as though guarding a wondrous secret. Slowly they began to open over the coming days. Before long it stood fully opened, brandishing magnificence. Tall and elegant as it bathed in the sunshine.
I carefully trimmed it from the bush with a few other buds. You insisted on carrying them to the house in your bucket. I warned you about the thorns but you are a curious kinaesthetic learner. I kissed your pricked fingers better and your briary run-in was quickly forgotten.
I loved looking at those roses sitting on the dining table, resplendent in my favourite vase.
When they began to look a little tired I added sugar to some fresh water. They revived for my viewing pleasure for a few more days. Then, as roses do during their life cycle, they began to shed some petals.
As I stood looking at the petals sitting on the table I recalled an email my friend Juliet sent me.
When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, my Oncologist advised I was to begin chemotherapy immediately to try and contain the disease. After four cycles of chemotherapy I was to have a radical mastectomy.
On the eve of the surgery I sat down with my laptop to check my emails. I was feeling nervous but mostly I was feeling sick from all the chemotherapy. By this time I was sporting only a handful of hairs on my head and my eyebrows and eyelashes were barely hanging in there. I was literally shedding my skin.
Juliet had wanted to make the trip from Sydney to be at the hospital but commitments prevented her. Instead she sent me a beautiful email. She reminded me to experience everything in all its shades and contrasts, knowing that it would not alter who I really was, in my heart. She told me that she would send angels in her place to watch over me and ease the process. Then she told me that a rose is no less a rose just because one of its petals has dropped.
The next morning I allowed myself to feel everything without hindrance. The fear, the anxiety, the strange enveloping calm and the hope for the future. True to her word, Juliet sent some heavenly guardians. As I sat alone and gowned up in pre-op waiting for the surgeon, I found myself surrounded by eight men of differing ages and ethnicities. It was hard to make them out with clarity but I could see they were dressed in white. They stood, four on each side, with their hands on the railing of the hospital bed. The doctor came in and asked if I was alright sitting there by myself. He must have thought it odd to find me with a smile on my face.
“Yes, thank you. I am fine”. I was not alone. I was in the company of love.
Soon afterwards I awoke from surgery and one of my petals was gone. Yet I still emerged a rose.
A modification to my physical form did not take away from the very essence of who I was. Just as the petals lay on our dining room table, the flower they came from was still a rose. Even when all the petals had fallen off it was no less a rose.
There is an incredible reality that is unseen yet lives through us. It is the spirit within that grows the petals. The soul is the marrow that forms the stem and the thorns. Our heart flows through the roots.
Don’t identify purely with your body Seamus, it is not who you are. You are breathing your body, your body is not breathing you.
Long after the petals have fallen you will still be the rose. A magnificent flower in a heavenly garden.
“What was said to the rose that made it open, was said to me here in my heart” – Rumi