January 1, 2004
Shelley Peterman Schwarz
Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis
ONE WINTER SEVERAL YEARS AGO, I made plans with two friends to go to an orchid show in my hometown of Madison, Wis. It was freezing cold outside, with a minus 25-degree chill factor, on the day of our planned outing. Because of my MS, extreme temperatures affect how I feel and I was afraid to leave the house on this rather frigid day. So, my friends went to the show without me.
Two hours later, my wonderful friends appeared at my door with a gorgeous gift for me: the most beautiful flowering orchid I'd ever seen! It was a delicate phalaenopsis with a dozen white butterflyshaped flowers with purple centers. For more than 4 months, the flowers bloomed and remained frozen in time, as perfect as the day I received them. Looking at that magnificent plant during those long winter months gave me hope that spring would return.
In May, when the flowers finally died, I was shocked at how ugly the plant had become. It's funny. While it was blooming, I never noticed that the other parts of the plant were unattractive. My phalaenopsis had only a few leaves: some were a deep, intense, forest green; others were faded and washed out. The roots-long silver-gray nubby tendrils-crawled out of the pot looking like strange worms trying to escape confinement.
I didn't know where to put the plant. It didn't look pretty like my other houseplants. It just didn't fit in. I thought about throwing it away.
I'm so glad I didn't because 6 months later, I saw a new green shoot emerge. Each day I watched that spike grow. Within 3 weeks, it was 18 inches long and had 16 tiny buds about to pop open.
Day after day, I watched the buds open like butterflies emerging from their cocoons. I marveled at the beauty, grace, and delicate features of each flower. A peaceful, almost holy, feeling came over me. Who or what could have created such an exquisite flower? I couldn't believe that it was an accident of nature or a random act of the universe. To me, it reinforced my belief in a higher power. Perhaps this higher power created the orchid to remind us that we're not alone. The orchid became my beacon, my hope for a better tomorrow.
A month after the orchid was in full bloom, I showed it to a visiting friend. She reported that she had an orchid plant at home that hadn't rebloomed since she bought it years earlier. She wanted to bring it over to see if I could work my magic on her plant.
As I placed her non-blooming plant next to my gorgeous, flowering orchid, I felt a spark, an instant connection. Her ugly orchid reminded me of my body with its limitations, awkward movements, and tremors. I didn't like the way my body looked, just like I didn't like the way the nonblooming orchid looked. Just as the non-blooming orchid didn't fit in with all the other (pretty) household plants, I felt different and sometimes out of place with my "normal, able-bodied" friends.
Yet, when I looked at the magnificent blossoms on the flowering plant, I felt a sense of peace, love, beauty, and grace. In a way, I saw my soul, my inner being. That's when it dawned on me! These two simple plants, side by side, had made my world a little clearer. MS was the plant and the flowers were my soul. If that kind of beauty could come out of something so ugly, then maybe I, too, could make something beautiful come out of my illness. MS may have a hold on my body but I won't let it have the power to touch my soul. I decided that day to keep "blooming where I'm planted," and to continue to create flowers out of my life.
Oh! And, by the way, I always keep a blooming orchid in my home-especially when the temperature falls to 25 below zero!
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