There it was, hiding behind an overgrown bush, covered with needles dropped from a towering pine tree: a brown prickly pear cactus planted in an old rusty coffee can. I found it last June, right before the grotto at St. Edward the Confessor Church was demolished to make way for construction. As some know, I was busy rescuing plants and statues from the wrecking ball in the Spring of 2021. I successfully saved most of the rose bushes and other plants but not the trees. During the last days, I sat under their branches and grieved. Maybe that’s why I took the dead-looking cactus home. It was just another loss I could not bear.
After removing the cactus from the coffee can, I was a chagrined to see that there was only about an inch of very dry dirt left. Doubt crept in. Survival after such extreme lack of sustenant soil or water seemed unlikely. Several of my transplanted rose bushes had died despite vigilant care. The remains of the beautiful “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” bush I fussily transplanted is a now a lifeless tree in my backyard. Fearing the worse, I transplanted the cactus anyway, watering and feeding along with all the rest of my patio plants every month.
I waited and watched. I played classical music. I said prayers of encouragement but no sign of life appeared until one day after Spring arrived in Southern California. A small green bud suddenly erupted on the side of the seemingly wornout brown body. Within a few weeks, other shoots appeared and quickly grew into strong paddles. Like Lazarus in John’s gospel, the prickly pear had been resusitated! To me, this was a comforting affirmation of the Christ-soaked world that we are privileged to share. Who knows? Maybe I will be harvesting the prickly pear fruit at the end of summer and writing about them!
I realize that seeing a cactus come back to life is no big deal to most people. After all, I have read that they are remarkably resistant to abuse, easy to grow and propagate, especially the prickly pear. No matter. I needed that little signal of transcendence as the war in Ukraine drags on, the coronavirus mutates endlessly, and violence permeates the streets of our homeland. If the prickly pear can bounce back like that, I thought, so can we, again and again, as life demands. Nature reminds us so often that hope really does spring eternal. Even though we may appear dead, done-in or old, human resilience gracefully fuels rebirth.