The velvety petunias, a sultry deep purple, hanging on the arbor in my patio in northern California, here, now, remind me of those others long ago in Santa Fe, in my mother’s front flower bed below the porch. Remind me of how horrified my mother was that day when—either under her orders or in a moment of offhanded kindness, seeing something that needed doing and wanting to help—the neighbor lady from across the street and I picked off all of the spent petunia flowers from her tidy row of plants, there every summer for the neighborhood to see.
Only we didn’t know the nature of petunias, then, either of us, and ended up picking all of the new buds off, because they’re the same general shape, softly wrinkled and tubular, as the blooms that are done blooming for good.
How could I know?
How couldn’t I?
For all the ways I let my mother down over the years—failure to see, impatience, clumsiness—I’m sorry and I’m sad. Learning the world and its beings (ourselves maybe, always, above all) has at its heart the indelible tragedy of failed attempts, of well-meaning not good enough, of those buds picked unwittingly too soon.
That purple carries the beauty of heartbreak within its joyful wholehearted beauty; and the pungent smell of the (yes, really) wilted flowers which I’ve picked just now, with infinite and rueful care, is redolent of the losses that fill every moment to the brim, spilling over, releasing the anguish that is always one but not the only essential part of the whole. Absolving.
For in the end, I’m sure, my mother laughed. After the scolding and the exclamations of how stupid we had been, it all came right again, and from disgrace came grace in moving on, seeing the pain and loss informing the next buds.
image: Christie B. Cochrell, Purple Petunias