Grace Among the Daffodils

Hello, friends! Since last weekend marked the one-year-anniversary of my graduation from college (Crazy!!), I’ve decided to share one of the best things that I wrote during school. Or maybe it’s just my favorite. Whatever. Hope you enjoy it!

I flop down on the grass, disregarding the dampness. The cool wet is a texture that my fingers have been deprived of for too long. I slip off one high-heeled shoe, sticking my toes in the grass.  The blades are waxy and smooth–nothing like hair, as I expected while a child. It’s not the sand of Plum Island Beach, but it still tickles. Small patches of dirt clog the pads of my foot.

Birds are singing, but somehow I’m missing the tune. I hear a conversation, not a song. They must be singing, though: their every move is a dance. A robin flaps its wings in five quick bursts, attaining altitude. Then it twists, red-orange underbelly to me, bright yellow beak careening downward–only to catch itself on suddenly outstretched wings. Two robins take flight, a flurry of feathers and sound. It looks as if their talons are trying to connect, but they plummet, landing on their feet. Was the ritual a success? Time will tell. Meanwhile, I continue to look on with longing: Oh, to fly and shout like a robin.

The sun bathes campus in yellow light today, not the cold, dead white of winter. It’s warm on my back–not oppressive yet, but definitely warm. My sunglasses slip over my eyes, modifying the entire color spectrum so that it’s tinged with sepia. I prefer the grass’ natural green, the blossom’s natural white, to what I see now.

What will the colors be like in Heaven, I wonder? I find myself humming an old Keith Green tune:

Seaside sunset, silver linings fill the clouds,

Birds fly, singing, making such a joyful sound.

Thoughts of heaven somehow seem to fill my mind,

But I can’t even imagine, what it is I’m gonna find. (Green)

I notice the daffodils. They’ve always been my favorite flower, even before a daffodil became the first flower given me out of romantic interest. I wore that one in my hair, much like the roses later on; but I decide to leave these ones undisturbed. The gentle wind ripples them, and they seem to speak of peace. Well–I’ll leave them be for a moment.

The sunny pinwheel petals of the daffodil are pretty, but the trumpet–or, perhaps better stated, the flute–has always been my favorite part. Bursting from within the petals, the trumpet is smooth and cylindrical, feathering at the top. Within lies the stamen and the pollen from which the daffodil’s lovely smell emanates.

I see four types of daffodils. The two bunches nearest to me are a uniform yellow, petals and flutes alike. The ones on the other side of this garden-patch have lighter petals, accented by vibrant trumpets. As for the other two types of flowers, I’m not even sure if they’re technically daffodils at all. They’re the same basic type–pleated stems, thin leaves, petals, trumpets–but they are not completely yellow. In another garden-patch, I see flowers with yellow trumpets and white petals; in my own, separating the two yellow varieties, I see flowers which are white from petals to stamen.

The daffodil isn’t strictly necessary to begin with, I ponder. It serves no utilitarian purpose, and four variants on the same non-utilitarian theme might seem inefficient, wasteful… Extravagant, even. Yes: extravagant. Daffodils are uncalled for, given free of charge when observed outdoors. I may not need the daffodil, but that is just one of many reasons that the daffodil is an exhibition of grace–because, as Annie Dillard puts it, “beauty [is] a grace wholly gratuitous” (Dillard, 7).

Admiring the daffodil, I’m brought back to a crisp day in Boston:

It’s early March, and I’m with my closest friend, Liam, and his parents. They’re treating me to a day in the city while I’m home for spring break; it’s only my second time to the North End, and I am completely overwhelmed–by their generosity and how they treat me like a member of their family, and by the city itself.

It’s after lunch, and we’ve just entered the Harvard University Museum of Natural History. Terry, Liam’s mother and a second mother to me (or third, as it were), mentions something about a glass flower exhibit. Something stirs in my memory– have I seen it before? If I have, I probably raced through the entire exhibit before my mother (a flower lover) could make it past the first display.

I peer into the first glass case. Could it be true? Could I possibly be looking on a sculpture made of glass? It couldn’t be–but the plaque hanging nearby assures me that every flower in the room was sculpted by the father/son team of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. Each sculpture so delicate, so lifelike! So precisely made, carefully worked at–so nearly perfect.

For each of the eight-hundred forty-seven species of flowers, the Blaschkas crafted a variety of sculptures. (The exhibit boasts over four thousand.) One displays the entire plant, life-sized; some have a magnified specimen, the blossom shown at eight or ten times its usual size; all are shown with a cross-sectional sculpture as well. They are each beautiful and intricate–but not what draws Terry to the display. No, the stamen and ovaries–magnified hundreds or thousands of times–are her favorite.

Could something so tiny, so detailed, so intricate, so utterly perfect have simply sprung from the ground?  Could this possibly all be one huge jest, a joke? The specificity of everything in the universe (dare I say it, the “created order”) suggests otherwise. We must ask with Dillard, if not in jest, “was it then made in earnest?” (Dillard, 7).

GlassIris

The irises were my favorite Blaschka flowers.

I pluck a daffodil, bringing it to my nose. Between the sweet smell and faint sparkle of petals, I find myself tempted to eat it–like a child. So much of this looking is re-learning how to be childlike, isn’t it? How to regain that first sight, those “color-patches of infancy,” rather than the harried second-sight of adolescence and adulthood (Dillard, 29). As Kathleen Norris puts it, “Adults may appreciate the innocent wisdom of children, but we are expected to forgo indulging in such foolish games” (Acedia, 196). I see a flower, but I hurry by, not taking the time to stoop and smell it. I hear a bird, but don’t care to admire its tuneless warble or precisely unplanned flight. I clomp through the grass with my shoes on, not bothering to kick them off and dance with glee among the waxy, clover-studded blades. I see, but I take no joy; my eyes are closed to grace.

As I gaze upon the daffodil in my hand, my thoughts drift from my surroundings and to a line of music from a song that I learned in my junior high voice lessons:

“My daffodils are all aglow,

I walk within the town and know.

I see them in the crowded street,

Their tender grace is just as sweet.”

“A grace is something that merits gratitude. The word gratuitous comes from the same root” (Quotidian, 66). For me, the daffodil’s grace is more than it’s unnecessary beauty or joy-bearing fragrance. It’s more than the extravagance of their variety. For me, the daffodil is a symbol of forgiveness; of restored innocence, repentance; a blossom of hope for the future. I was a different person before the daffodil became a token of romance, of affection. I was whole, single, and entirely my own. After the daffodil, things got out of control: I trusted myself–my whole self–to a person who proved unworthy. I changed myself for him, lived a lie until I realized that it was slowly becoming reality. They (the boyfriend and the lie) were slowly destroying me. The daffodil in my hand reminds me that, in the words of Philip Yancey, “imperfection is the prerequisite for grace” (Yancey, 273). Like the antique ring on my finger, my tarnish is gone and I glow like polished silver. I remember the words of Andrew Murray: “Grace renews not only our relationship to God but also to others” (Murray, 42). Daffodils smell of reconciliation for me, of the forgiveness and acceptance of family of friends; indeed, of God Himself–in short, of Grace.

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By the time I get home, the daffodil’s stem is weak, nearly bent in half. The petals’ edges are beginning to curl, their color fading. The bottom of the stem, once hollow and open where I’d broken it, is curled inward now, attempting to conserve as much moisture as possible.

Stranger than this (for, indeed, it seems very logical) is the goo hanging off the stamen. I can only assume that it oozed from there, though I haven’t the slightest inkling of its purpose. After all, it looks like snot–and why would a flower need snot? I fill an old glass Coke bottle with water and drop the flower in, placing the makeshift vase on my desk.

Oftentimes, I ponder as I futz about my apartment, I feel like that flower: dehydrated, withering, back drooping. Living with sinners–or as a sinner–does that to a person. I say with Norris, “It is as if I have taken the world’s weight on my shoulders and am too greedy, and too foolish, to surrender it to God” (Quotidian, 25). I try to shoulder the burdens of an entire family, though there is no outlet for me to “solve” one of them. My youth and status as the youngest child prevent me–in many ways, protect me–from the responsibilities that my older sisters have to deal with: they take care of children (their own and other peoples’); they work and make a living, always financially minded; they pay rent and directly contribute to our family in ways that I can’t while I’m at school. More than all that, my sisters are eyewitnesses to the struggles of the family–where I am (often) not. So, I compensate: I bend my back under the pressure of burdens that need not effect me. I cling to anxiety and sorrow that were never truly mine–only to return home to find that they have dissipated.

Upon flitting back to my desk for a Post-It, I notice my flower. The petals have regained their energy, the stem its vigor! It stands, head high, and I can practically hear a song lilting from its upraised flute. It is once again fully alive. Surely I have seen this hundreds of times over, yet it continues to amaze me.

My recent foray into the academic study of prayer has had a similar effect on me. In the deadness of winter–for the snow, in my experience, hardens more than just the ground–the devotions of Henri Nouwen and Andrew Murray, repetitive phrases of the Celtic tradition, and rich prayers of the Puritans (which began my journey) revived me: Living Water as they lead me to, hydration for my easily parched soul. They led me back to the same words of Jesus which have called me to worship nearly every Sunday for twelve years: “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy leaden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest to your souls, for My yoke is easy and My burden light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

 

 

 

Works Cited

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. New York: Harper’s Magazine, 1974. Print.

Green, Keith, and Melody Green. “I Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven.” The Prodigal Son. Keith Green. Pretty Good Records, 1983. CD.

Murray, Andrew. Believing Prayer. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2004. Print.

Norris, Kathleen. “The Quotidian Mysteries.” Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life. New York: Riverhead, 2008. 178-98. Print.

Norris, Kathleen. The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work”. New York: Paulist, 1998. Print.

Yancey, Philip. What’s so Amazing about Grace? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997. Print.

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