When I was five, my father planted morning glories in the window of the bedroom my sister and I shared in our tenement Manhattan apartment on 163rd Street. The morning glories climbed from their window box up the metal bars of the fire escape—a shocking sight against brick, concrete, and iron.
It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
Our bedroom window looked out on an alley, with a few feet of space between our building and the next. Fire escapes ran up and down the sides of both buildings. People strung clotheslines between the two buildings to hang their washing to dry.
From our fourth floor bedroom window, my sister and I could watch our neighbor on the third floor of the building across the alley. She spent the day in bra and slip, screaming at her children. In the evenings, I would lean out of the window to watch a small black and white TV in her apartment after we had been sent to bed. At night, I would crane my neck and see a slim panel of starry sky between the two buildings. One night, I dreamed that all four Beatles had climbed into my room through the fire escape window to take me away with them.
Many years later, I was participating in a coaching exercise that asked me to answer the question: “If I was a bloom, what flower would I be?” Those morning glories zoomed to the forefront of my mind for the first time in years. As I saw their delicate tendrils against the brick alleyway, I thought, “No! That’s not right. I should be a bolder flower, in a more natural setting.”
But the image persisted—window box, fire escape, alleyway, and all.
I resigned myself and went with it, still kicking and screaming on the inside.
What type of flower are you? A morning glory, said a calm voice from inside me.
“No!” another voice protested. “I want to be flamboyant like a lily, or at least as bright as a tulip, for heaven’s sakes! Or classic and mysterious like a rose. But a morning glory? Give me a break.”
The exercise continued.
How much sun does it get? Very partial sun, between the buildings.
“Grrr. Couldn’t I have come up with something a bit more wholesome?! After all the work I’ve done on myself, I’m still in a pot on a fire escape in an alley?!”
Source of nutrition? The soil.
“Well, at least I have my little pot of dirt. Soil is soil, right?”
What does it need to flourish? It needs to move to the country!
“At last—an escape hatch! Yay!”
If your flower could transform itself, what would it become? A pine tree.
“Aha! Yes! A majestic pine! That’s more like it!”
What else does your flower want to say?
Suddenly, another voice, from a much deeper place, kicked in.
It wants to say: I am strong. I will survive. I bring beauty to my surroundings no matter how ugly they are. I am as pure here in this window box as I would be in the wilds of Borneo.
“Oh. I see.”
The morning glory follows the laws of her own nature, no matter where she is set. Her own nature is the only blueprint she needs to bloom. She is not defined by her setting, her past or her environment. She is true to her own nature.
I remember my childhood home. There wasn’t much beauty there. There were things that made my soul recoil: it wasn’t pretty; it wasn’t clean; the linoleum was torn; the closets threatened avalanche if you dared their depths. There were roaches. Many roaches.
The morning glory was so beautiful. I saw it as a miracle, a creature from another planet amid the dinginess of the alley, reaching for the sun, opening to the light every morning and closing to the dark every night, a perfect star of white radiating from the center of each blossom against a delicate background of mystic blue. A miracle.
Yes, beauty, freedom, and fresh breezes are lovely; I see that my soul craves more contact with nature, and I will try to make that happen. Yet there are many ways I can bring more beauty into my life right now. The important lesson is to recognize the integrity of my nature, no matter what surrounds me.
Morning glory, you were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. That first sight of you initiated me into a love of nature to carry me through the rest of my life—and to think that I hadn’t thought of you all these years.
When I was twelve I moved to my dad’s new house in the suburbs and I never spoke of my home on 163rd Street again. I was now officially a spoiled middle class teenager. It was as if those first twelve years never happened. But they are inside me, as is the morning glory that, so many years ago, planted the seeds of a lesson that I am reaping only today.
Hello, again, old friend, ancient teacher!
You held so many messages for me. Thank you, morning glory.
Morning glory, hallelujah!