The other day I thought of a fond memory from back when I was ten years old.
I was helping my Aunt Rose tend to her rose garden, and we were chatting about a lot of things, then, out of the blue, she said, “Life is like a rosebush, Jibbo.” (She always called me Jibbo)
“How’s that, Aunt Rose?”
“A rose garden is a wonderful thing. Right in the center is a magnificent, beautiful rose, but it’s surrounded by thousands of thorns.”
It was a warning, like the ominous kind you see in movies or read about in children’s books.
Aunt Rose is like that. She is one of the kindest, gentlest people I’ve ever known, but she has a thick layer of protection in the form of a realistic, sometimes skeptical, outlook on life. I suspect the motivation is to protect the ones she loves from getting hurt. If any of us ever got too happy or too optimistic about something, Aunt Rose would be there to warn us it wouldn’t last. On that particular day I was helping her, I didn’t heed her warning. I was ten years old, and the world was nothing but roses.
Seven years later I got married, at barely 17, and I went into that phase of dreaming about the great things life had to offer. I had a job that paid me $2.75 an hour and my wife and I had just rented an apartment—and with no parents to tell us what to do—what could be better. At nineteen, I started my own business. The world was mine. I saw the millions.
Then the thorns started showing up. At twenty-seven, frustrated and in debt, I sought a career elsewhere.
A New Beginning
Once again things went great. We had visions of our three children all being something special. Early on those dreams were the typical ones: doctor, lawyer, physicist…plug in your favorite white-collar occupation. By the time our kids reached the teenage years all we wished for was them to come home safe on Friday nights. Once we came to our senses, all we wished for was for them to be happy.
It wasn’t until years later, when those thorns kept jabbing me, and poking me, and keeping me up at night, that I understood what Aunt Rose meant by her saying. Many years after that, I finally understood Aunt Rose.
My youngest son suffered a near-death experience from drug use, and, as my wife and I sat in the ICU waiting room, she looked at me and said, “We should have never had kids.”
I held her, brushed her hair, and said, “Remember the time he told his friends we were the best parents in the world?”
She nodded, and looked up at me. There were tears in her eyes.
“And the times when he spontaneously said, ‘I love you, Mom.’”
I kissed her cheek. “Those are the roses, babe.”
Aunt Rose was right. I know that now. Life isn’t perfect. It never will be. Things will always go wrong. If you want to enjoy life, you have to realize that. And you have to learn to appreciate the roses.
So every time you get pricked by thorns, even jabbed pretty damn hard, remember that somewhere out there, a rose or two awaits you. Life is like a rosebush. How true.
Ciao, and thanks for listening,
PS: Aunt Rose will celebrate her 96th birthday this coming October. And she is still dishing out great advice.
If you feel like sharing, tell us what your roses are.
For me, as a writer, it’s a simple email from a reader saying how much they enjoyed the story, or how the book kept them up all night reading it. That means more to me than a critic’s review, more than seeing my name on the book cover, even more than sales. Those letters are the roses of writing.
Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of Murder Takes Time, and A Bullet For Carlos.
He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 41 loving “friends.”