These were angry roses. Discarded. Thrown out. Tossed away. Unlike hopeful or future-focused coins tossed in a fountain, these roses were the expression of a past event- a hostile, betrayal of love that bordered on rage. These roses in a tree were the true expression of love gone viciously wrong, as only the deep biting angst of love can feel. When my eyes first beheld them, I did a double-take — my brain not quite registering what I was seeing. Though they’d been flung haphazardly from a balcony above into the apathetic arms of their host tree, the beauty of the roses remained — out of place, yet distinctive among early-spring, leafless branches. Perilously perched, each rose clung, hope unabandoned — holding on to its temporary home for days — even weeks until one by one the wind finally reclaimed them.
One could only imagine what might have happened to prompt an emotional reaction so-filled with anger that a gift that was supposed to say, “I love you” or “I’m sorry” wound up saying, “I hate you” and “Nothing is forgiven”. The most painful experience one can have is to feel betrayed by someone we’ve put all our trust into. Angry words, tears, hateful texts don’t seem enough to reflect the kind of pain so wrenching it can make one physically sick. Roses in a tree. But more on that later…
When I was nine years old (a year younger than my classmates), Michael, a boy in my class fell head over heels for me — the rumor spread like wildfire (pre-social media). At my age, girls did not relish having that kind of attention from a boy. It was like kissing a cockroach. But, he was smitten and persistent with a silly grin plastered on his face as he passed innocent notes to me in class. The day of my birthday, the school yard was abuzz with something that Michael was going to do. Sitting on the bench at recess that day, surrounded by “my posse”, here comes Michael with that silly grin glued to his face surrounded by his posse. Cautiously, he approached me, one hand behind his back. His knights — gently pushing and encouraging. After a few steps, he finally stood in front of me and said he had something to give me. I told him adamantly and repeatedly that I would not accept any gifts from him. He was warned. But, oh the power of love. With the end of recess fast approaching, and the chorus behind him growing louder, Michael quickly tossed the small black box into my lap. I repeatedly tried to give it back, but as the crowd grew, he was having none of it — talk about schoolyard drama. Then, my girl-knights in that treacherous want-to-see-more-drama way, began to encourage me to open it. I refused. So without warning, the traitor sitting next to me, grabbed the box and opened it. Inside was a lovely, golden watch. I was stunned and totally embarrassed. The crowd went wild.
I could not accept it. I would not accept it. I tried, repeatedly, to give the watch back to Michael, but he refused. I pleaded. No go. The crowd went even wilder. I felt I had no choice. I took the box, hurled my arm back and threw it as hard as I could high over the fence and off of school property. Out of sight. Out of mind. An eerie quiet permeated the air. Then, a loud chorus of “Oooh-oooh-oohs” (Oh, no she didn’t).
Triumphantly, I left the scene, marched into the classroom, my entourage trailing behind me in silent disbelief. I settled in my seat and began to work on the class assignment. Fifteen minutes later, Mr. D., my favorite teacher in the whole world (I was unabashedly the teacher’s pet), called me up to his desk — it was usually to do some special task, since I was often the first person finished with assignments and would frequently ask him for more work (Yes, I was that kind of kid). On the way to his desk, I could only imagine what this next special task could be — handing out snacks, running an errand, erasing the board. When I reached his desk, Mr. D.’s eyes — normally mischievous and full of twinkle, were flat and humorless.
“Did Michael give you a gift?” he asked. I wanted to sink through the floor to the deep molten core of the earth. How had he known? Who told him?
“Yes” I replied meekly.
“And what did you do with it?” he countered.
I could feel the scorch as I sunk closer to the earth’s core. “I threw it over the fence” I replied. Hastily, adding that I had tried to warn him not to give it to me.
I shall never forget the total look of disappointment that spread across Mr. D’s face — me his star pupil. Looking back on that moment from a mature perspective, I can only imagine that as an adult male, Mr. D understood the courage it took for Michael to present such a gift — an offering of one’s true feelings, followed by this painful, public rejection — perhaps the first, but certainly not the last, that my classmate would experience over a lifetime.
Mr. D was a master teacher — not only of the mind, but also of the soul. Typically, he engaged students using a philosophical, Socratic method of teaching designed to elicit thoughtful responses. Not this time. There was no asking what I think I should do. He, instead, told me that I needed to immediately apologize to Michael and return the watch in a civil, gracious manner. And that is what I did. When I faced my lovestruck classmate, I apologized and returned his gift, (someone had miraculously retrieved it off school grounds). I clearly remember that Michael, to my amazement, still had that smitten smile on his face. Go figure. Though I’m sure he was deeply hurt, there was no anger, revenge or retaliation after the incident. What is most memorable is that this kid who had been humiliated in front of half the school playground— had forgiven me. I learned several lessons that day — lessons I have never forgotten — lessons that also reflect the many reasons why Mr. D was and will always be my favorite teacher.
Back to roses in a tree … rather than focusing on the anger that elicited the thrown-away beauties, I think it’s even more important to focus on the subsequent act of forgiveness for whatever wrong was committed. With maturity, hopefully, comes wisdom and insight. Forgiveness is a learned, unselfish response, seemingly irrelevant in today’s coarse, boundary-less and selfie-obsessed society. Forgiveness, however, has healing powers. It is, obviously important to the one being forgiven, but, I would argue, it is even more emotionally freeing for the one doing the forgiving. It allows one to move on, to remember, yet let go enough to be able to process the event in a healthy manner. It is the more enlightened, emotionally secure person who is able to forgive upsetting or painful acts — whether forgiving the throwing of a watch over a schoolyard fence or forgiving whatever caused the ditching of unwanted roses thrown angrily and haphazardly off a balcony into the receptive and protective arms of a neighboring tree.