A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: A lesson about living gracefully as flowers fade and summer ends

The hydrangeas are past their peak. Blue-green fades gracefully to a luminous, pearly luster, while rose-colored bursts ease toward rust. Brawny weeds and muscular green leaves threaten to overpower, yet they seem unconcerned. Grazed by a gentle breeze, they nod their shaggy heads and bow, still cheerful as summer ends.

Years ago, I wrote a piece about the last roses. Mourning their loss before it happened, I tried to save just one still-vibrant bloom and bring it inside so to slow the natural order of things. But that was in November, when autumn cast ever-deepening shadows on the garden, a reminder of the inevitable shift of the seasons.

Today, it is early August, and the sun-dappled yard is shrugging off summer. Pencils are sharpened; notebooks, brand new; school is in session. Some eager scholars will soon discover that after a week of class, they are two months behind in algebra.

The hydrangeas don’t seem to mind the passage of time. They are plucky even in the face of change. Thinking of them, I make faces at myself in the mirror when I apply lipstick in the morning. Signs of aging are making new marks. The ladies at Merle Norman have done all they can to advise me, but there comes a time when concealer reveals more than it obscures.

“Life’s too short,” my mother often said, but to us time dragged endlessly as we waited to hear reindeer on the roof Christmas Eve, or to be old enough to get a driver’s license, graduate from high school and head to college, leaving home forever.

When I was a teenager, we used to declare, “Rather be dead than live in this town,” certain that the rest of the world bustled with excitement, opportunity, fame, and fortune, while our hometown was chained to a dull, workaday routine.

We complained about parents who criticized the music we loved, the fashions we donned, the idols we worshipped. We swore when we had kids we would never be stodgy; never complain about the younger generation; never look at a new doctor and wryly wonder if he or she is old enough to vote.

Now older and wiser, we understand why saying, “You’re only as old as you feel,” inspired grimaces and long-suffering sighs from our grandparents. Now we are the aching Mamaws and Papaws.

The hydrangeas teach their lesson without a lecture. They lead by example, a reminder that they have gone the course with no regrets. Even at their most glorious, they understood the end would come. “Who has the will to bloom forever?” they seem to ask.

Perhaps it is the increase of hustle and bustle as school begins or the contentious political climate inspiring thoughts of natural endings and unwelcome change. I flee inside seeking the comfort of my laptop to discover the message on my screen: “Set up back-up.”

As instructed, I open the Action Center and see two options. Either find and fix problems or restore my computer to an earlier time.

I choose neither. After all, I have a deadline.

What a relief to ignore the blinking cursor and write about hydrangeas and the lessons they teach about living gracefully, beginning to end.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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