All along the walkway I see chrysanthemums in bloom. They are truly late bloomers,  broad bushes of green spilling over with heavy bursts of pink, purple, yellow, rust, blood red, white, and combinations that pop. There is an anthem in chrysanthemums that sings of glory which finally erupted before the frosts and snow of winter’s grim reaping turn all to black and gray. And I imagine each one is a beautiful fifty eight or sixty eight year old human who embraces life. Late bloomers who were too skinny, too poor, too awkward, too fat, or not good enough in some arbitrary category that was prized in its day…they have come into the glory years of their lives. Life has crowned them with some victory of health or luck, perhaps. And then maybe they are just doing what they’ve always done while everyone else was duly impressed with tulips and daffodils and irises. Soaking up the sun miraculously, humbly digesting dirt and water. Gone now, buried in their bulbs are the spring prima donnas while the chrysanthemums reign in gardens and claim walkways as their pedestrian picture frames.


I was walking in my back yard years ago with my beloved daughter Jess. She is a holy savant, an angel who trills opera tunes in her bedroom and faithfully prays with our dog in the morning. She has been learning delayed and was always in special classes for her impairment. Still, she yearned for the skills and freedom of her older sisters. As we walked around looking at the flowers in early summer, she said, “Dad, why am I delayed? Why can’t I do what other girls do easily?”

I felt a poetic dart in my aorta and blood gush out of my throat. I wanted to take her in my arms and squeeze affirmation into her bones, to tell her with pride what she does do so well. I didn’t. Instead I took a deep breath and saw a beautiful purple iris standing tall near our pond. I said, “Jess, look at that iris. Isn’t it a beauty?” She agreed that it stood tall and majestic. “This iris is you, Jess. It’s your favorite color and it’s a late bloomer. Do you think it worries about what all the tulips and daffodils and primrose did? No. It stands far above them in her beauty. They are gone and this iris is the queen of the garden now.”

That dart hit her heart, only she swelled up with affirmation from the metaphor. Ever since she has repeated this truth, “I am a late bloomer” with a smile on her beautiful face and a flash in her eyes. “I am a late bloomer” is an explanation, a contextual aid not an excuse. No excuse is needed for a victorious purple iris.


THE MEANING & SYMBOLISM OF     chrysanthemum

With a history that dates back to 15th century  B.C., chrysanthemum mythology  is filled with a multitude of stories and symbolism.  Named from the Greek prefix “chrys-“ meaning  golden (its original color) and “-anthemion,” meaning flower, years of artful cultivation have produced  a full range of colors, from white to purple to red.  Daisy-like with a typically yellow center and a decorative  pompon, chrysanthemums  symbolize optimism and joy.  They’re the  November birth flower,  the 13th wedding anniversary flower and the official flower of the city of Chicago.  In Japan, there’s even a “Festival of  Happiness” to celebrate this flower  each year.

A symbol of the sun, the Japanese consider the orderly  unfolding of the chrysanthemum’s  petals to represent perfection, and Confucius once suggested they be used as an  object of meditation.  It’s said that a  single petal of this celebrated flower placed at the bottom of a wine glass will encourage a  long and healthy life.

A long and healthy life, yes. I get it. Chrysanthemums explode as the days grow colder and shorter, like a friend of mine who is in his third marriage. No one could have scripted the joy he found in the accepting eyes of his Pat. Chrysanthemum love is potent and heavy as a funeral bouquet. It will lie down with you  on your deathbed.

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