She stared at the plant, mesmerized. There must be 50 buds on the Christmas cactus, waiting to open. There they sit, one on each branch near another, the promise of beauty so close, within reach. Just once a year and for a very short time, her mother’s old Christmas cactus blooms into glory, all red stars bursting the spectacular. And then they’re gone; the cactus shut down and dormant for another eleven-and-half-months.
Christmas, itself, had been like that when she was a kid: magical, not replicated any other time of year. And it was condensed, too – just a week or two – so people were happy, not tired and cranky and overwhelmed by two months of Christmas songs. Now it seemed like just one of the seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, Christmas.
Brigadoon! – she suddenly remembered. Yes, the name of the play was Brigadoon, the tale of a Scottish town that appears but once a century. A century!! She had watched the film version as a child and had been both fascinated and afraid… frightened by something so rare as a town that shows up every 100 years. But when she had seen it at the local playhouse years later, she hadn’t been afraid at all. She had lived some life by then and knew when you come across something so singular, so beautiful as Brigadoon or a once-a-year Christmas cactus or love – especially love – you have to grab it.
Life seems to clip along like those clydesdales on the Christmas beer commercial, she thought; ever faster, speeding by like pictures in a kaleidoscope – there’s a snapshot of your high school graduation, the dog you owned when you were five, your mother in her hospital bed. How did that all go by so fast? So very fast.
Lately she had let some things go; it was time and they were just too hard to hold onto. Others – her connection to your best friend, her commitment to play her guitar every week – she held onto tightly because she knew she was still living a life, even if she was older, even if she may never see her mother again or that first true love.
And she knew there was remarkable newness to her old life – babies in the family, scrubby trees that you get to watch grow to sturdy oaks, puppies that lick your face raw – and that her own life was unique and rare and fragile. If she was lucky enough to be around again next Christmas, she knew without a doubt that the cactus would open again – right on time – in a burst of glory and promise, reminding her that everything old can be new again, too. Even love.