Planting bulbs is a joy all of its own. It’s a promise of spring – when, in truth, none of us know we will be here to see them rise, to see which particular week of spring they bring colour, to smell the narcissus and hyacinths and welcome them as a harbinger of warmth and light, remembering the equally cold day they were planted, knowing there would be colder and darker days to come.
When I had my first cancer my sister and I planted gladioli bulbs with no certain knowledge that I would be there to see the blooms (grade 3 cancer, 3cm tumour, I was 36 – we weren’t catastrophising, it simply wasn’t certain). It was a glorious thing to do – making a pledge into the earth that even if I wasn’t here, something I had touched would be, could be, and it would be beautiful.
I saw a play last night – Enter the Dragons, funny, dark, absurd, daft – about women and aging and one of the women talked about her mother’s death and that feeling when we have no parents that we are now the ‘older generation’, there is no-one ahead of us. She had a lovely line about there being ‘no roof on the house anymore’. My father has been dead 30 years ago and my mother 15. On the day my mother died I had the last of our five embryos (made pre-chemo) inside me. There was still hope I was pregnant. I remember sitting on my mum’s sofa, beside her dead self (I’d gone over to take her shopping) and feeling nervous to touch her – not because she was cold, not even because she was dead, but in case death was catching, contagious death. (Breaking news – it is, we’re all going to get it.) I’d already lost four embryos, I didn’t want to lose this last one. I wanted some of me, some of her to carry on. And it didn’t last and I didn’t stay pregnant and then there was just me – no generations before, none to come after. I have the great good fortune of having a partner*, we know we’re lucky to have each other – and I have no children and no parents.
Planting bulbs is an act of faith, I have no idea if I will be here to see them come up – I’m healthy right now (as far as I know), I’m living, I’m working, I’m aging and thriving. And I cannot know, none of us can know, if we will be here tomorrow, let alone through the dark days of deep winter and early spring. Planting is both a simple, pleasant and hopeful thing to do (pesky bulb-munching squirrels notwithstanding) and it is an act of courage. It dares to say I know I may not be here tomorrow and I lay down this possibility anyway.
(Yes, I know they’re going in late. They always do and they’re always fine. That’s an act of faith too, not sticking to the trad old almanac and just planting when I have time. Go for it. Get your bulbs in late. Get them in the windowbox or the one pot you have room for or the whole garden if you’re lucky. And Southern Hemisphere people – enjoy your spring. You planted it.)
* in a world where we’re all assumed to have children and partners, where it’s believed that’s the norm, I’m very aware, having no children, that having a partner is not everyone’s life norm either.