Readers know the truth. Closing the cover on a well-told tale is one of the most satisfying experiences in the world.
Breathing a sigh, caught between worlds, still oblivious to the clamor of unmade beds and untended gardens vying for their attention, readers linger at the threshhold of half-remembered lives, hesitant to turn from the vibrant, constructed world they entered with such anticipation, happy to have discovered all the pleasures of diversion, insight and beauty it once allowed.
Still, as I set aside the story of Godot, my self-effacing little cactus with the extravagant blossoms, I was content. The history of his rescue, the drama of his against-all-odds determination to bloom and the glory of his flowering had been recounted, and it was time to move on.
From all appearances, Godot was equally satisfied. As his blossoms faded and fell, he didn’t fuss or complain but re-dedicated himself to growing quietly in his corner. Life went on, as life does, and all was at peace on the porch.
At peace, that is, until one of Godot’s neighbors began to grow restless. A much taller, columnar cactus with a shape resembling a starfruit, she’d always been a bloomer, putting out pairs or triplets of small yellow flowers several times a year.
Like Godot, she kept her flowers for only a few hours, but set them with such regularity it was easy to overlook her efforts. Most of the time, I gave her no more than a cursory glance. If I noticed one set of flowers fading, more were sure to arrive. Neither dramatic nor spectacular, she was steady and dependable, offering few surprises. She could be counted on to produce.
Not long after Godot re-entered ordinary life, I noticed a cluster of buds on top of the taller cactus. She hadn’t bloomed recently, so I thought little of it, assuming the new cluster of flowers would resemble the last.
The next time I stepped out to water the plants, the number of buds had increased. I began to count: two, five, nine… There was a total of thirteen buds. I’d never seen such a thing, and told her so.
“What?” I said. “You think you can outdo Godot? Are you trying to become a little Godette?” There was silence as she continued drinking her water and leaned a little more toward the sun. Turning her around and inching her pot into more direct light as a gesture of encouragement, I said, “Ok. You’ve got aspirations? Let’s see what you can do with those buds of yours.”
As it turned out, Godette was an over-achiever. Over the course of a week the buds filled out, swelling and crowding against one another until it seemed impossible there would be space enough for the blossoms to open.
In the end, there was space aplenty. The buds swelled and struggled and plumped, each competing for its own special spot as they became more uniform in size.
Eventually the time came for the flowers to open, and it was as though Nature herself had choreographed their one shining moment on life’s stage. During that “moment” – which lasted no more than six hours – they seemed to have been infused with sunlight as they shimmered and glowed in the dappled afternoon shade.
Confronted by this newly extravagant creature blooming next to him, Godot appeared to be unperturbed, but who could say?
Looking at the pair, I recalled lyrics from the musical, Annie, Get Your Gun: “Anything you can do, I can do better…” The thought of my cacti doing battle like a horticultural version of Betty Hutton and Howard Keel amused me terrifically. It also gave me pause to realize my first, fanciful interpretation of Godette’s blooms had been based on the assumption she felt herself in competition with Godot.
Watching the fuss made over Godot’s stunning work, had she felt inadquate? Inept? Envious or jealous? Was she frustrated by her seeming inability to produce a similar, stunning beauty ~ the kind that would bring plantparazzi running and ensure her a place in the blogosphere as well as on her balcony?
Perhaps. From neighborhood Little Leagues to the so-called Big Leagues of Washington and Wall Street, there’s a lot of competition taking place out there. Who’s to say it hasn’t taken root in unexpected places, thriving in soils enriched by generous doses of envy, fearfulness or greed?
Still, as I watched the setting sun wash Godette’s closing blooms with a final sheen of gold, I wondered: what if another story were unfolding in a corner of my balcony? What if, instead of envying Godot’s accomplishments and expending all her energies in an obsessive attempt to surpass him, Godette simply had thought to herself, “Look at Godot. The flowers that plain little fellow produced were so unexpected, so memorable. I wonder if I might do something similar if I stretched myself, just a bit?”
To put it another way, what if Godette, looking at the beauty produced by her prickly little friend, felt no need to compete? What if she simply were inspired?
I never expected to be drawing life lessons from cacti, but there’s a lot in life I’ve never expected, including my own struggles with competitive impulses and a nagging sense of inadequacy. A great joy of the world-wide web is that it brings exquisite writing, heart-stopping photography and great blooms of creativity into the very center of our worlds. The danger is that, confronted with so much excellence, we’ll choose to retreat while flashier blooms hold center stage, or perhaps exhaust ourselves in senseless competition.
Like Godette, each of us has our Godot, the one whose very existence tempts us to think, “I can’t do that”, or “I need to be better than you”. Like Godette, we could profit by learning to accept such thoughts as the silliness they are and simply allow inspiration to have its way. After all, if we’ve already produced a tiny blossom or two, who’s to say a whole bouquet isn’t within our reach? By the time we close the cover on that story, it could be a very satisfying tale, indeed.