Brief Beauty

Outdoors it is windy and cold, and the brown of old leaves and dead grass is dappled with leftover patches of last week’s snow. At this time of the year, I am so ready for spring to come. I’m ready for maples to flower and attract early bees, for the aconite to put forth its small gold petals, for warm breezes that encourage me to to take off my jacket as I prune the shrubs. I see small green shoots of daffodil and hyacinth, but they hesitate to grow in this weather.

There is something happening right in my living room though. For 15 years, my walking iris plant has bloomed at the end of February. Just when I am most in need of flowers, this brief splash of tropical beauty shows up.

It always shows up, but I have to pay attention or I miss it. Each bloom opens in the morning and closes by dusk, and rarely are there more than one a day! Eight precious hours of a delicately exquisite flower, and then it’s finished.

Last week I saw buds forming on the long strapped leaves, but I still missed the first three blossoms. When I finally paused to examine the plant, I saw the three curled-in faded blossoms had bloomed unseen. I’d missed the colorful expansiveness of the open petals. I’d missed their brief beauty.

Today I looked — another elegant purple and white blossom is uplifted into brightness next to the window. And I counted six more buds preparing to put forth the same miracle. I don’t want to miss any of them.

It is easy to walk to my study right past the plant on its stand without glancing at it. It is easy to focus on work and think about appointments that fill my day. But to experience this flower, I need to pay attention to what’s in front of me, to see what is here now. The blossom won’t wait around a few days until my schedule is lighter, and I’m not in a hurry.

I realize I’m considering how to live. I want to be awake to passing beauty, to brief moments of joy, and to small gestures of kindness. I want, as William Blake wrote, to “kiss the winged joy as it flies.” His poem reminds us that joy can never be captured; it is winged. I can’t capture the flowers and force them to bloom for several days. But I can see them and delight in how my walking iris has yet again brightened my drab February day.

Perhaps if I’m attentive to the brief beauties, the brief blessings, that show up in my life, I might also grow more attentive to those ongoing, longstanding blessings that are easy to take for granted. I want to be attentive to the blessing of a heated home and a refrigerator filled with food. I want to remember to be grateful for my car that works and for work that is fulfilling.

And I want to really see the familiar people whose beauty fills my life. It’s so easy to take them for granted just because they are so close every day. I want to notice the beauty of small expressions of love, like my husband faithfully loading the dishwasher and feeding the cats, like phone calls from my daughters, emails from friends, and the neighbor who brings freshly baked surprises from her kitchen.

I need a few pauses each day simply to be attentive to such beauty. I could call them “Wake Up” pauses. I would pause and notice the warmth within my house. I’d picture the faces of my dear ones and whisper my gratitude. And I’d definitely pause to touch this day’s fragile blossom and marvel at its beauty.

A “wake up” pause will help me be more awake to that which can easily go unnoticed. Will you join me in this practice? Can we together notice the small miracles that bless us?

If this writing has spoken to you, please share it with another.

Note: Walking iris is also known as neomarica.

8 thoughts on “Brief Beauty”

  1. I love this, Nancy. A few days ago on that very cold day of fierce winds our electricity was out for 7 hours. When it came back on the house thermostat registered 54 degrees and I was simply elated when I heard the furnace being. I remember the glee that came with that assurance that the house would not get any colder but doesn’t come when I simply switch on the lights at the beginning of the day. I believe I will allow my own walking iris, offshoot of its mother, be my nudge to gratitude too :). Thank you, friend.

    1. Thank you, Ann, for writing of your experience. Yes, we do value a heated house—when we’ve had to do without it! I like your idea of your walking iris plant as a reminder for gratitude. Thank you for sharing that. Nancy

    1. Dear Scott, Yes, ‘simple blessings’ is what we often miss—and take for granted. Even if they are blessings that have been pouring into our lives for many, many years! I’m glad you wrote and shared that phrase. Nancy

  2. One of my dear memories is when our youngest son was small, when evening would come he would call out “pink sky!” and I would hold him up and together we would revel in the beautiful and brief pink sky showing through the trees as the sun would set. A beautiful brief moment shared.

    1. Dear Marilyn,
      Thank you for writing and sharing this story! Yes, I think a sunset, like a rainbow is the essence of a brief beauty. How lovely that phrase: “pink sky!”

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