A long time ago my boyfriend would bring me a dozen long stem roses on Valentine’s Day. I would proudly put them in a vase for everyone to see, a grand display of how much he loved me. But eventually, the roses would die and I would toss them away. After a while, my boyfriend became my husband and still, he brought me roses on Valentine’s Day, until after we had been married for several years and I finally told him the truth, “I’m not really a fan of roses, I prefer tulips. Roses are so conventional and the prices’ are jacked on Valentine’s Day so it seems like a huge rip-off.”
So now the poor guy would go out in the middle of February searching florist shops for tulips to show his love. At that time of year, tulips cost twice as much as roses and ultimately only resulted once again in a vase full of droopy, wilted flowers that would end up in the trash bin. So last year, twenty-five-plus years into this Valentine’s Day circus, I finally said, “Listen, honey, I don’t need any flowers on Valentine’s Day. They are overpriced, it’s just a gimmick and they always die anyway.”
Now my husband is smart and he knows better than to fall for that old trick.
Coming home empty-handed on Valentine’s Day? Nope.
So there I was in the kitchen last Valentine’s Day when the door opened and in walked my husband holding a small tree. A Bonsai tree. “For you,” he said, giving me a peck on the cheek. “Something that won’t die.”
Attached to the tree’s stone pot was a booklet that explained the history and philosophy of Bonsai. I sat down and read it.
“There is a special art and philosophy to caring for Bonsais. They are often viewed as a metaphor for life itself. Bonsais are living things that need care each and every day. Each tree is unique and you will come to know both the strong and the weak parts of your individual tree. Caring for such a tree can also be a challenge and you will need to practice patience as you help your tree to grow. The Bonsai tree is also said to express “Wabi-sabi” or a beauty that is imperfect and which brings about a sense of appreciation for the simpler things in life.”
What a perfect Valentine’s gift, I thought. A metaphor not just for life but for our love. Not some overpriced, flashy gimmick, but a living tree and just like our love, this tree won’t die. We must see our relationship as a living thing and come to appreciate both the strengths and weaknesses we each bring to it. When caring for a Bonsai tree one must have patience and nurture it, just like we should take care of our love each and every day. Our life, like this tree, may be imperfect and simple but it is also beautiful.
Tears welled up in my eyes. “This… this tree, it is the most romantic gift.” I squeaked.
My husband nodded. “Sure, sure,” he said, grabbing my hand. “Come-on, we have a few minutes before the kids get off the bus. Time for my gift.”
A few days later the Bonsai tree was knocked off its shelf and several of its branches broke off during my sons’ indoor football game. Then the cat took a liking to its leaves and chewed on them relentlessly until finally, the poor tree could take it no more. Broken and frayed, it died.
“Well, what does this say about us now,” I said as I threw the Bonsai in the trash. I thought for a minute. “I guess if the Bonsai was really a sort of a metaphor for life and love than this is the real message it held: it doesn’t matter if you get showy roses or wilted tulips or a Bonsai tree, enjoy the gifts you are given while you have them, enjoy your stolen moments together, and care for each other both when love is new and flashy and later after it has been knocked down and chewed on a few times.
And then my very smart husband said, “And I think perhaps the most important message of the tree was this, don’t overthink everything, sometimes a tree is just a tree.”
Happy Valentine’s Day. “Wabi-sabi” life is imperfect, appreciate the simple things.