Monday, May 10, 2010

The Chrysanthemums

In 2001, when the world was watching the World Trade Center terrorists attacks, I was sitting in a masters level creative writing class at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. My executive editor was beeping me and I ignored the beep until I got out of class, thinking what the heck could be that important?

As soon as class was dismissed I called in. I received the shocking news and sat down on the nearest steps. My editor told me to report to the Acadiana Regional Airport to see if any flights had been diverted there. There weren't and it was a very quiet news day in Acadiana and expectedly the entire paper the next day was devoted to the horrific news that large-scale terrorism had reached American shores.

I had no idea a year and half later I would be in New York City writing about the WTC redevelopment or should I say the impediments to its redevelopment.

Here it is, nearly nine years later, I am back in Acadiana. In the 2001 writing class, we read a story by John Steinbeck entitled The Chrysanthemums, one of Steinbeck's greatest works. Chrysanthemums are cut back during the growing season, which enables them to grow stronger in the fall.

I believe in every lifetime we go through a growth period and then must rest a season, where very little progress is made, just some immense thinking. Perhaps that's where the entire country is right now, with the economic crisis. God sometimes does a shearing of our lives, allowing us to go deep into the core of our beings and so we can begin to pull out those things that resonate with our truth. It can also be test of faith. But flowers never doubt they will bloom once again.

Chrysanthemums bloom in the fall, and for best results are cut back during the growing season in order to grow fuller instead of taller.

In the Steinbeck short story, the character of the protagonist, Elisa Allen, was a bright and energetic woman who gave up her career to follow her husband. Since her husband is always working the cattle in their farm, she never has enough attention or any kind of affection. This neglect from her husband causes her to turn to her “chrysanthemums,” of which she is very proud. Her husband’s remark, “I wish you’d work out in the orchard and raise some apples that big” which shows how little interest he has for her chrysanthemums. Elisa does not feel appreciated by her husband and so she takes care of her chrysanthemums, symbols of how beautiful she really is. Early in the story, Steinbeck uses little symbolic phrases to let the reader know that the chrysanthemums are an extension of Elisa.

When a strange man passes through town, a wanderer who travels up and down the coast of California sharpening scissors and repairing pots, her conversation with him leaves her feeling frustrated and dissatisfied with her current life. But his interest in her flowers and her makes her feel good about her self again. Later as she is getting ready to go into town with her husband, she notices the flowers she had just cut were laying on the ground and the flower pot she arranged them in gone. She feels used by the stranger, who smoothed talked her.

In my life, I played the Elsa role a time or two, especially in my long-term marriage to a helicopter pilot, who's career always came first. There have also been many strangers, which I feel can symbolize any distraction that is seemingly exciting, that have waylaid me from my truth. Perhaps that is what was necessary for my growth, to find only emptiness in things that glittered.

While in New York City, I searched for happiness through many distractions never finding it. It was an experience I will never forget, nor regret, but now I long to go back and get my masters in creative writing once again.

I have been severely cut back in many, many ways. I am working a temp job that pays the bills, whilst I figure out the rest. But I have found less can actually mean more of what truly matters in life. Getting up at daybreak and watching the sun rise and seeing the orange bursting from the clouds of a South Louisiana sunset finds me appreciating life in ways that I never thought possible.

So much has transpired between last October and now. I traversed many states, lived in New Mexico, worked two temporary jobs, and tried to get lost in the wee moments of life. But much like when the Chrysanthemums are cut back a lot happens underneath the soil, when we don't notice or force things to come about. I have become more grounded and drawn closer to my truth. Things are just different. So different I don't even know how I existed in Manhattan, commuting, working, and living a life that didn't match my soul's desire.

Faith, it has come and gone. I have been test and apparently found worthy. But through these trials and tribulations I have processed and let go of limiting beliefs, and practiced forgiveness and patience. I have also learned how to accept a helping hand with grace. I used to be so darned independent that I turned away many blessings in my life.

Probably the most positive outcome is that I have learned to use my intuition, allowing the flow of life to lead me. I learned that forcing a door open that was meant to remain shut merely results in a really bad decision. I was a go getter and was more easily distracted by people, places and things that I thought would bring me happiness. In this cutting back, I have learned discernment. I now allow things, letting life meander where it is suppose to go, versus paddling against the current. Happiness just is and I AM. Problems great or small disturb don't disturb my peace. It just doesn't matter anymore.

I don't know where I will end up. But when this season is over for this too shall pass, I will let God lead me to my next job, my next home, my next love interest. This isn't saying I will not do my part in seeking all these things, I just won't force them into happening and much like chrysanthemums that bloom in the fall, that is when I believe my life will again blossom into fullness.

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