The bees are having an orgy with our bottle brush tree.
It’s blooming like mad. Needle thin magenta red flowers are exploding all over the place.
They land in my hair as I trim its branches to unblock the backyard gate – crucial for quick bike getaways and the kids’ friends direct access to the trampoline. I prune its branches until I’m covered in sweat and tiny red needles, or until the bees get too angry. I’ve never liked this tree.
Maria sees the tree differently. Just yesterday she pointed with reverence to dozens of buds about to bloom.
Allow me to introduce Maria.
Maria is from Guatemala, and has been part of our family since January. She is the older sister my sons never knew they were missing, whom they embraced faster than I’d ever imagined possible. She has a family back home — younger brothers, older sisters, mom and dad. But it is not safe to be a teenage girl there. That’s enough said about that.
Maria helps me see many things differently, not just the loathsome bottlebrush tree. Through her eyes I see abundant, under-appreciated privileges: walking alone at night in our neighborhood; living near a public high school so desirable that kids take a bus two hours to attend it; having books in our house; enjoying freedom from fear.
It is easy not to notice the bounty you have when everyone around you has the same, and expects it. When everyone wants more.
It’s easy to forget to appreciate the red flowers.
The blooming tree announces spring’s arrival, and the arrival of Passover, with exclamation points.
Maria helps me see Passover with new eyes, too. This year when my family gathers for a Seder, when we read our Haggadah (including MLK’s I Have a Dream speech, and a song about Pharaoh sung to the tune of the Brady Bunch), one fundamental Jewish mandate will rise above all else: that we were once the stranger, and that we have a sacred duty to welcome the stranger now.
The star of the Passover story is Moses, of course, leading those Hebrew slaves out of oppression. This year I will be thinking a lot about Moses’ mother, who placed her helpless infant in a basket and floated him down the Nile to save his life. I think of the courage it took to spare him. Of the heartbreak. I think of Maria’s parents, who had to do the same. And I think about the woman downriver, who happened to be at the river’s edge at the right moment. Who plucked the child out, who acted on instinct to save him.
My grandmother reminded me recently that her mother, Mary, was also sent away to save her, from Vilna, Lithuania, to America’s saving arms. Like my great-grandmother, our Maria was an “unaccompanied minor” seeking the simple promise of ordinary: to live and study and work in peace. My great-grandmother ended up living a blessed life. My heart is filled with hope that Maria will have a measure of the same. And it echoes with sorrow for their selfless mothers and fathers.
As for the red flowers, I think I’ll let them grow.