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The Day the Dogwoods Didn't Bloom

Updated: Apr 13, 2021

There are three flowering dogwood trees in our backyard here in Virginia. On the morning my father died five years ago, I walked outdoors to get my bearings, to get grounded, as they say. My shoes off, I walked feet-to-the-grass around the yard until I got to the dogwoods. I stopped. They were in bloom. It was March 31st. I got my phone and took a picture which I eventually printed to frame and hang in my living room.

The date of my father’s death is just three days on the calendar after my late brother’s birthday. March 28th through March 31st is a different kind of time for me. The body seems to connect the dots, and in that week my skin gets thinner and my heart softer for the two guys who knew me my whole life, who raised me up from my birth, providing contrast and color to the lessons my mom taught me. Then, there are the dogwoods. I can’t say that before 2016 I ever really noticed when they bloomed. For the last five years, they’ve always arrived, reliably opening their eyes in those four sacred days. I walk out every year, greeting them while I think of my dad and I think of my brother and I say the tiniest of prayer of gratitude.

Except this year. Today is April 4th and they still have not bloomed. The week of March 28th came with its own special 2021 turmoil this year – some difficult and life-threatening experiences for a dear friend, news about my own health that required my attention, some nasty personal online attacks from a couple of different directions, and of course, the continued wall we are all collectively hitting with the anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on our lives. It was a lot, my mind and heart were over-run with sadness, disappointment, grief, and exhaustion. I spent my time with doctors and phone calls and rearranging work to give attention where it mattered most. I cried a lot. And on top of it all, the dogwoods did not bloom.

Not yet, anyway.

I checked on them today, and they show signs of promise. Those trees aren’t dead, they’re just taking a little longer this year. I don’t know why – maybe it’s the temperatures we’ve had, or the amount of sunlight has changed with an overgrown tree in the yard next door. I don’t need to know, and my sense is the trees are smart enough to bloom when those flowers will have the best chance of survival. They’re probably not used to someone hanging around them tapping her foot and exhaling loudly and peering out the back window each day, rushing them along, like WHY CAN’T YOU JUST BE BLOOMING LIKE THE FORSYTHIA AND ALL THE OTHER FLOWERING TREES? I am not the boss of them. They do not live to serve me. I’m a star-struck gal in the audience, waiting for the beautiful protagonist to make her appearance.

Anticipation is a funny thing: waiting on something we know is coming, something good, something we cherish. We can get a little spoiled when the goodness comes like clockwork – the amazon subscription package arrives when it says it will every single time, until that one time that it got delayed. Our favorite game show comes on every night and we sit with our spouse to compete and laugh, and then is delayed by a special news report. And the dogwoods always bloom between March 28th and March 31st, until they don’t anymore. We feel let down. Disappointed. Offended. We might momentarily forget that these have all been gifts, every single time. And they are no less generous whenever they arrive, even if they’re late by our standards, on a timetable we don’t understand.

The dogwoods are asking some good questions, I think. They’re asking me to consider what gifts I’m waiting to put out into the world, what I have that is about to bloom. They’re asking me if I’m willing to let it bloom on the timetable that might be different from what external deadlines or pressures would suggest, later than some others around me who are moving more quickly or boldly. They’re asking me if I’m putting pressure on others in my world to produce when they may not be ready yet. They’re asking me to remember that just about everything is a gift, and that gifts come with the giver says it’s time.

Perhaps they are also giving some advice: Watch, wait, keep coming back. Cherish the tiniest signs of life as much as you cherish the full blossom. Remember it is all a gift and it will come when the gift-giver is ready.

Eyes up, Amanda

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