Monday, August 06, 2007

Botany and Contract Grading

This spring, in a fit of the spontaneity to which I always aspire, but rarely attain, I bought two big pots of Gerbera daisies for the front porch at Sandhill. For as many years as I can remember, it has been geraniums that stood sentinel on either side of the front steps, sunset coral or patriotic red, but in the five seconds or so that it took to walk from the parking lot and through the cyclone-fenced garden center at Lowe’s, the daisies caught my eye and kept it.

They are bright magenta, the color of a lightning flash over the ocean, the color of cooked rhubarb or just-cut pomegranate. The flower heads balance themselves on the tops of long straight stems and the petals reach out and down in gentle curves that makes them look as though they are arching their backs as they stretch into the sunlight. The leaves are broad and thick and the color of pine needles in deep summer and their edges are ruffled like the hem of a chiffon cocktail dress. They are showy without being ostentatious, more flirts than trollops.

Just the other morning I walked out on the porch to check the pulse of yet another hot and humid south Georgia day and noticed that one of the pots had five blooms. The other had none. I poked around in the barren pot and noticed a couple of short stems with closed buds beneath the dark green leaves, but it was clear that it would be days before they grew into the sunlight. On the other side of the steps, the sorority of five bounced and swayed in time to the breezy music of the wind chimes, oblivious to the deficiencies of their neighbor.

When we were in law school, my friend Linda often bemoaned our lack of a social life. She had been an Alpha Gamma Delta at Mercer, a member of a tight pack of cute and funny and popular girls whose weekends were always full. On one particularly dull night, Linda looked at me and said, "You know, Kathy A. Bradley, I think that maybe a person is assigned just a certain number of dates in her life and I used up all mine in college."

Considering my own less-than-sparkling social calendar during that four-year period, I replied, "Well, if that’s true I guess I have a lot to look forward to."

Without a second’s hesitation Linda looked at me sympathetically and said, "Oh, no. You don’t understand. Not everybody gets the same number."

Ah, yes, that old "life isn’t fair" thing.

I thought about that as I looked at my daisies. Same species, same front porch. Same sunshine, same water. One fertile and engaging. One just ... well ... sort of plain. The luck of the draw. The roll of the dice.

My last year of college (during which my friend Linda was across town using up her date allotment) I took a course in which the professor utilized contract grading. On the first day of class he gave us, along with the syllabus, a list of what it would take to earn an A, a B, a C. There would be no curves, no ranking. If every person in the class met the contract requirements for an A, then every person would get an A. If no one did, then no one got an A. What a great idea! Certain. Absolute. Foolproof.

How many of us, in the midst of great upheaval of one sort or another, have craved exactly that? A contract, a list of requirements that can be checked off when complete, a promise that if we do all the right things we’ll get what we want. A guarantee that life will be fair.

And, yet, even as the craving gnaws away at our equilibrium, in the midst of the anger and tears, we must acknowledge that that kind of fairness would rob life of its beauty and its tenderness. Knowing what will capture my heart tomorrow would surely prevent me from giving it today.

I water the daisies in the evenings, after the heat of the day has waned and the stillness of dusk has settled on Sandhill. I fill up the watering can and watch as the water splashes into the flower pots, half a can in each one. And this time I can’t help noticing that a couple of the flowers in the blessed pot are beginning to droop. The petals are turning a burnished red color and the stems are beginning to bend into a dowager’s hump.

In the other pot, the short stems are taller and the buds are plumper. Their day is coming.

And knowing that makes me smile.

Copyright 2007

1 comment:

T said...

Every time I read your writings I have a new favorite. The August 6th post is my favoritest...