Wrestling … with a flower?!

As a little piece of simple, homespun wisdom, who could object to “Bloom where you are planted”? I surprised myself recently taking issue with it and feeling unreasonably angry when a friend trotted it out in conversation. 

For years I have recognised the wisdom of it – the saying encapsulates an act of radical trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be; that exactly where you are is where you have the best opportunities to serve and to grow. This is your place: no other. (Because of my own privilege–and faith, perhaps–I would qualify the sentence with ‘for the time being’ . . . ). Doubtless there are pluses galore to staying and sticking out the hard times. There may be no better avenue to self-transcendence than the ability to stay.

Lately, though, I’ve been annoyed by the aphorism and instead of a ‘Yes’ I have found, if not exactly a ‘No’, then a ‘Not So Fast’ in it. I have found it to resemble one of those pretty little pieces of sentiment along the lines of ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’. How could I not when day after day we are confronted with appalling visual and narrative records of  migration crises? How can ‘bloom where you’re planted’ apply in the 21st century? How do the enslaved attain liberation? What is the liberation that is sought? What kind of flourishing is possible?

After wondering what had sparked my irritability, I realized one of the reasons I was angry was because a talented young woman I had taught had written to tell me that she had been shifted from high-flying international sales position to office drudge in the blink of an eye. (Which opens a separate can of worms on issues of justice, especially for women in the Japanese workplace . . . ). I thought: how, in circumstances of injustice, to bloom where one has been planted? She was a lot more sanguine than I about the situation: good for her! My question, though, remains about the larger picture, and concerns, in particular, matters of justice. The metaphor, it seems to me, is strained on this scale. The essence of it, cannot, to paraphrase Yeats’ admonition, ‘hold’. It falls apart.

We know not all flowers can bloom where seed falls. This  could be a result of poor soil, insufficient water, or care, too much sunlight, or too little. Likewise, there are plenty of people who cannot bloom where they are planted for any number of reasons. I can count myself among these number. To the contrary, of course, there are the miraculous – both plants and people – who not only survive but sometimes manage to thrive, in less-than- ideal environments.

I live among a people who are especially well rooted. It is both strange and delightful to me to encounter people, especially among the elderly, who have been born and grown up in the same house, or neighbourhood, or area and who have friends still from elementary school. I know that, to them, I am the strange one. I’ll admit that this quality of belonging animates in me a sense of my own longings.

Is the adage a truism, I wonder, something obvious that says nothing new or interesting? Or is it a piece of deceptively simply wisdom that looks easy to swallow but actually needs a good deal of chewing to digest properly?

railside bloom-2

Petunias on the platform

2 thoughts on “Wrestling … with a flower?!

  1. Kate, It’s funny you should write on the topic of blooming where one is planted. This past week while having lunch with some new neighbors, the conversation turned to the various places which we each called “home” and situations which led us to our current address. This conversation led me to say “I truly believe we are exactly where we are supposed to be,” as if it was the end all. As soon as I said it, I realized how privileged and smug it sounded, and I immediately added, “based on the good and not so great choices my husband and I have made thus far in our marriage.” Still, I was unhappy with my comment, knowing that those choices were 100% in our control.

    After I returned home I continued to be bothered by it: what exactly do I mean by “we are where we are supposed to be?”

    In many ways the statement stings of fatalism—a passive acceptance of a gift of lemons, or winning the jackpot, neither of which is deserved—of playing the hand you are dealt, so be it. If it sees every landing as an opportunity to turn left or right or stay on the same path, it can’t account for instances of injustice like the example of the young woman in your blog. Do I believe she supposed to be “exactly in that place” because someone’s poor decision put her there? Do I believe she is supposed to be there because if not for that, her next place might not occur? (Now we venture down the slippery “there are no coincidences” path.) …sigh…

    I realized that both the sayings, “we are where we are supposed to be” and “bloom where you are planted” don’t account for one’s genes or country of origin or social location or understanding of personal freedom. The sayings only celebrate the flourishing of those who are in happy places.

    In retrospect, I prefer “bloom where you are planted” to “we are where we are supposed to be,” because I am the type of person, like you, who makes do and blooms wherever I am. It’s not always a glorious bloom, but I flourish. There are so many who don’t have the choice.

    Thank you for the opportunity to continue thinking on this topic.


    • I’m grateful, Susan, for this great and engaging response. It clarifies & deepens what I wanted to say. . . The privilege of having choices and being able to act on them is certainly a piece of it. The mystery of the ways things happen in life’s unfurling and unfolding – I love to think on those things and the way we are shaped & directed by them. It may be that, since the metaphor is strained in the bigger picture, we each have to keep doing the work we can in the places we are, in the hopes that our choices create conditions for the happiness and liberation of all Beings, to use a Buddhist turn of phrase. In the complexity that is modern life this is no simple undertaking, so our intentions really do matter.


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