The Relentless Power of Life
Marisa Guerin PhD -- September 15, 2020
There is a lot to notice in a daily walk through the West Philly neighborhood where we live, and I almost missed an astonishing little miracle. There, at the corner of a low stone wall, and arising straight out of the pavement of a driveway, was a beautiful plant with lush red-green leaves and garnet-colored plumes flowering out. I have no idea what it was – I’m still working on my plant savvy. Named or not, it was healthy, strikingly beautiful, and confidently claiming its corner of the planet. It made me happy to see this sign of life in the most inhospitable of circumstances.
These times in the U. S. feel like the harsh and stony gravel at the foot of this plant. Not good. The economy is battered, millions of people are facing ruin and insecurity; the virus is uncontrolled and killing a thousand people a day. Americans are grappling with the poisonous effects of racism and climate denial; the West is on fire. The imminent election puts a leadership choice in front of our nation, and the fact that it could even be close is astonishing, but apparently true. We are stubbornly polarized, with no shared frame of reference for working out solutions.
All this shows up in the national mood. The times are tense, they are drained of joy, there is anxiety at every turn. Anger simmers and violence breaks out. Young people are sad, and old people are sad, and middle people are stressed to the max trying to handle it all. It can be downright bleak some days.
And yet… And yet… And yet!
No one told this unassuming little plant, “You can’t go out there, not here, not this way, not now….it won’t be good!” The plant simply followed its own built-in imperative. It reached up, up, to sun, to air; it reached down, down, to water, to nutrients. It gave its energy to the work of growing, to be its best self in whatever circumstances it found. Its time is now and it is taking full advantage of what it can be, no matter the stark challenge of its stony home.
Life, beauty, goodness: they flower forth relentlessly. Life, death, new life, an endless cycle There is no way to stop this power, there is nothing that ends it forever. If God is another name for Ultimate Reality, then this is the reality I want to remind myself of. That I can count on life out of deadness; that there really is irrepressible growth, simple loveliness, and emerging wholeness. It’s not that these good things erase the crises, but it remains true that new life and moments of love and joy dwell in the midst of suffering. I knew this, and my resilient brothers and sisters in oppressed communities know this. But I tend to forget.
I don’t know how to translate this reminder into any specific expectation about the election, the virus, the economy, social justice, or the climate, so I won’t try. I just know that I’m in a bigger story, and life and beauty are impossible to suppress. Just being reminded of it is enormously reassuring.
May you flourish, plucky red bloomer!
(Readers who know their plants have identified this for me. It appears to be celosia, from the amaranth family, also known as cockscomb in some varieties.)