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The White Orchid

September 17, 2021

Athena Williams


“The Black Thumb of Death.” This was the name Christy gave herself. She could wither any plant just by looking at it. Roses, basil, bamboo, even cactus—she killed them all, and finally gave up. She just wasn’t a gardener. She cringed whenever she remembered the first time she had disappointed her son: her advice about watering his lima bean sprout in third grade had resulted in its swift decay. “Mom, I did what you said and my plant died!” 

Word spread among her family and friends: Don’t give Christy a plant! She laughed it off and appeased her craving for beauty with occasional cut flowers, but secretly sorrowed over the lack of vitality in her home. Every spring she hardened her heart against the cheerful array of flowers for sale, congratulating herself on her fortitude.

Which is why she never saw it coming. It snuck up on her one summer, when her guard was down. Her innocent, well-meaning friend Faith brought her a gift—an elegant, fluttery, milk-white orchid. Christy’s heart was shattered. Didn’t Faith know? Hadn’t she heard? Oh, this pure, angelic orchid was doomed. “Thank you, Faith! It’s gorgeous!” She tried to sound enthusiastic, but her imagination swirled with visions of sickly, shriveled orchids scolding her like a scene from Alice in Wonderland.

“They’re so easy to care for,” Faith replied. “Just put three ice cubes on it every week. Of course, I’ve never been able to get one to rebloom, but maybe you’ll have better luck.” As soon as Faith left, Christy began to grieve for the orchid’s certain demise. But against her will, against her own better judgment, she also began to hope. 

She had never tried so hard before; perhaps she had never cared so much. Maybe she was just older now, wiser, more patient, or more desperate. Whatever the cause, the spark of hope ignited and she began to research orchids—how they grow in the wild, how to water them, how much light they need. She learned that you should not put ice cubes on orchids, but soak them whenever their roots dry out. Christy ordered special orchid fertilizer and placed the plant in an east-facing window. She asked questions, watched videos, read articles, and gingerly tended her precious gift. Feeling silly, she even tried talking to the plant, but only when no one else was home. “Hey there … how are you doing? Are your roots healthy? I’m trying to take good care of you.” 

A week went by; then two. The orchid didn’t die, and Christy’s hope grew. Could it be? After a month the orchid was still thriving, and Christy gained confidence. She bought another orchid, and a succulent. Then she planted a little pot of mint. Wonder of wonders, they flourished under her care! Her collection wasn’t impressive, but it was a start.

“Wow, Mom,” her son observed, “I guess you don’t have a black thumb anymore.”

But it seemed he spoke too soon. The following week, the delicate orchid blossoms began to wither and dry out. Each morning, Christy found one or two crispy flowers lying on the table. She frantically ran through the checklists of orchid care in her mind, but she was sure she had done everything the plant required. Hope ebbed, giving way to the familiar shame of failure. Why had she dared to risk such disappointment? She knew better than to think she could keep a plant alive! She scolded herself, but she couldn’t bring herself to let the orchid go, though more flowers died every day.

“Tomorrow,” she told herself each evening. “Tomorrow I’ll throw it away.” 

After a week, all the buds had fallen and the flower spikes stood bare and yellowed, mocking Christy’s disappointment. She sighed in defeat as she scrolled through her YouTube feed, trying to distract herself from reality, when something caught her eye: Orchid Care After Blooms Fall. She immediately opened the video, fanning the almost cold ember of hope within. Was it possible she had been wrong, and her orchid wasn’t dead after all?

Yes, it was true! It was normal for orchids to fade after a couple months, at which time the plant would focus its energy on producing new leaves and roots before making more flower spikes. Christy discovered that many people made the same mistake, giving up on their orchids after the blooming phase was over. How sad! She looked tenderly at her orchid, realizing for the first time that it was quite healthy, with strong roots and leaves. She renewed her commitment to care for this lovely gift, confident that she could provide what it needed to rebloom in a few months. Fresh hope gave her patience to wait, and she cheered a few weeks later when a new leaf and two new roots began to emerge.

Christy’s heart filled with joy each morning when she greeted her little treasures. The white orchid had cured her black thumb and the shame that came with it. How grateful she was for her bold friend Faith, who believed she was not a failure. Christy smiled as she thought of Faith, and named the white orchid after her. 

The featured image is courtesy of Jessica Knowlden on Unsplash. 


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