In search of story


I, petunia

Yesterday evening I tended my garden with a childhood song going through my head: “I’m a lonely little petunia in an onion patch.” (Yes, they don’t write ’em the way they used to.) It played itself mercilessly, grindingly, until I had to wonder why. With neither petunias nor onions before me, why was that lonely little petunia singing its country heart out in my head?

Why did I even have to ask? I’ve been thinking about loneliness. And about aloneness. Being alone is not the same as feeling lonely any more than being with others is the same as not feeling lonely. But both have been orbiting in my thoughts, like phasing moons.

The other day I heard friends talk about taking risks, about making choices without a clear vision of consequences, about holding to principles. Each owning her singular way. Each her own petunia in her own onion patch.

I just lived through three weeks without family nearby. They were gone, and I was terrified. I hope it didn’t show. But the time was instructive. I learned that a long time living without family nearby is just as scary as thinking about it. Onions to the horizon. And me, petunia.

Mine was the voice singing that redundant song. On some level, I had embraced my inner petunia.

I think loneliness and aloneness are not avoidable, and I also think we need not run from them. To know ourselves, we must be alone and must feel lonely — sometimes. Aloneness is harder for some than for others, to be sure, but loneliness is hard for everyone. That singing petunia was plaintively human. And insistent in my head.

It sang of life. Much as we need other petunias, it’s the onions that teach us our lives are on us.