Our peonies have returned this year. Watching them as they move toward full bloom has been captivating. Tiny ants crawl around the heavy spherical buds, gathering the nectar that emerges each day. The ants will eat any insects that might cause harm to the flower, so peonies and ants benefit each other. At this stage, however, it seems as if the peony will never open: so much potential locked inside papery wings embracing each other. Each day, I check to see if they’ve begun to open. Each day, they are still locked.
Then, when they finally break open and stretch out their wings, they last only a few days. Theirs is a fleeting glory. What I anticipate for so long finally comes to fruition, and then it fades so quickly that I wish for the tight bud again, locked with potential.
It is not so different with us. We live most of our lives as peony buds, opening ever so slowly. When the world at last sees us bloom in full personhood, we begin to move towards death’s door. And then we start daydreaming about being the bud again.
I’ve been thinking of these things because I cannot get two numbers out of my head: 35 and 47. I forget about them sometimes, but mostly they stay, resurfacing whenever someone mentions age or death. My father was 35 when he learned that he had a cancerous tumor on his brain stem. He was 47 when it took his life. Currently, I’m 32, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what it would be like to learn that I have a terminal illness. That would certainly clear away any illusions I had about remaining a bud forever.
We’re going to bloom, my friends. And when we do, we’ll probably start daydreaming about being a bud again. Let that change you now. Even though you may feel locked full of potential, the ants of banality circling your everyday existence, you are going to bloom. You are going to open. And then you are going to fade.
It’s true that flowers fading and falling into the soil of Christ will live forever. Death has lost its sting for us. But we cannot let that truth lead us to live thoughtlessly in the present. While death has lost its sting, it hasn’t lost its purpose: to help us remember that we have an earthly life cycle, a limited time in which we will stand tall and spread ourselves out in the open air. What will you do before you fade? What will I do? Think on these things often. Doing so will enrich the color of your petals when you finally burst open before the world.