Michael Patrick O’Brien: Hope grows with the roses

Some unexpected graces have charmed my diligent efforts to comply with our governor’s stay-at-home and work-at-home coronavirus directives. They are the rose bushes growing just outside my makeshift office window.

Our cozy home has two floors. For many years, I’ve had a study/office on the main floor, but it runneth over with the telltale signs of my book-writing and blog-composing hobbies. As a result, when I had to find a place where an attorney like me could practice law remotely for a bit, our basement summoned me.

It is a fine, finished and furnished basement. The builders raised it well above the norm because of the high water table below us. So much light streams in through the many large ground-level windows that reasonable minds might dispute whether it is a basement at all.

We completed and decorated the space about two decades ago. In the main room we included a built-in wooden bar, for all the lavish parties we planned but never hosted. The bar sat idle for years until I claimed it as my temporary standing desk just a few weeks ago. Now I belly up to it every day.

My wife, Vicki, likes the arrangement. She loves me, of course, but is not acclimated to having me underfoot every weekday. For eight hours each Monday through Friday, she has her floor, and I have mine. In a corner of my floor, just to the right of the bar-turned-desk, is my favorite spot in the new workplace.

Standing there, I can gaze through a large window and see — less than three feet away — our rose garden. We call it a rose garden, but it’s hardly what you‘d find at the White House or Temple Square. Instead, it is a simple row of flowering shrubs that we have alternately tended and neglected over the years.

There are seven bushes. They pop into view when I look over my right shoulder as I work from home. Although I have been working diligently, I have indulged in some significant rose-watching minutes, too, a habit not rife with opportunities for instant gratification.

In early March, when this whole corona thing started, the rose bushes were bare — essentially just brown twigs with thorns. As March turned into early April, green replaced brown, and fertile stem supplanted lifeless stick. Reddish leaves now peek out from the spaces where this metamorphosis is most pronounced.

This is not the only backyard-related transfiguration I can report. These botanical life forms that I often underestimated — and sometimes ignored — now are my welcomed and cherished co-workers, companions, muses, distractions and inspirations amid the domestic isolation.

When my corona confinement started, I planned to track it in minutes, hours, days and weeks, using tools like my day planner, calendar and iPhone clock. Now I measure the passing time by the number of rose bush leaves engaging the spring sunshine and by the length of green stems stretching for the blue skies that I enjoy mainly from behind glass.

And soon I will have another measuring tool — red, white, yellow, peach and lavender petals. The roses are not here yet, but I know they will arrive in good time and, this year, carrying great promise.

When the morning sun kisses those first roses, I pray it is with beams unclouded by COVID-19. When I lean down to smell the emerging flowers, I long for an aroma liberated from the stench of existential dread. When their rosy colors dance before me, I yearn to watch with eyes not soaked with pandemic tears.

Last fall, I pruned and fertilized our rose bushes, just as I try to do every autumn. Back then, I discounted this chore as routine and melancholy, heralding nothing more than the onset of another winter.

Now I appreciate the special significance of that cultivation. These are no ordinary rose bushes flourishing outside my ad-hoc office window.

With them grows hope.

Michael Patrick O'Brien

Mike O’Brien is a writer and attorney living in Salt Lake City. He is writing a book about growing up with the monks at the old Trappist monastery in Huntsville, Utah. He blogs at theboymonk.com.