I always have a soft spot in my heart for the zinnias this time of year. Most of the other summer flowers are long gone by now, but it’s nearly December, and the zinnias are still blooming. Being a summer girl, I’ve grown to appreciate their willingness to hang around when the days and nights begin cooling. Even though I’ve lived in Phoenix for nearly 40 years, letting go of summer is still hard for me. As a child, summer meant freedom; freedom from having to sit at a wooden desk all day and freedom to move out into the world beyond the rural Nebraska town of 2,000 where I grew up. My summers now aren’t much different than the rest of the year as far as work goes, but there is a lightness about summer that feeds my heart. The longer days invite me to arise earlier and stay up later, drinking in more of life than usual. They draw me to parts of the planet that have more water than the desert, replenishing me just enough to return to my everyday life in a dry place, including my garden.
One thing I’ve noticed about the zinnias is that their color fades from the exterior petals toward the middle of the flower. The heart maintains its vibrant color until right before the flower begins to dry up and go to seed. I don’t know of any other flower that fades this way and I find it such an extraordinary metaphor. I love the bright orange and magenta flowers in full bloom, but there is something even more poignant about the bright center still holding on to its original hue.
Over the weekend I visited with my 94 year old mother-in-law, who is a zinnia in her own right. She struggles with the day-to-day activities most of us take for granted; walking, standing, eating, remembering. It’s hard for her to hold onto a thought for more than a few seconds, and our conversations involve considerable repetition. Her waking world, television, and dream state are blending together more and more. Yet, even in her confusion, she has the heart of a zinnia. After going over and over the same dream, and responding patiently from my own heart each time, she said, “Thank you. I needed someone to talk to me like this.” Then she thanked me for being so good to her over the years, and I thanked her for the same. Her petals are diminishing rapidly and one of these days she will fade away from us for good. I know that when her time comes, her heart will be strong and vibrant until her last heartbeat, like the summer zinnias that linger on into the dark nights of a desert winter.