The Hundred Year Cactus

At some point when I was in my early twenties, I heard about a plant called the “Hundred Year Cactus.” I don’t recall where I heard about it or any specific details except that this plant supposedly bloomed once every hundred years, but when it did, it was the most beautiful bloom in the desert. These were the days before the Internet, and I had no way of quickly verifying the information; I just accepted it. 

In recent years, I’ve tried to see what I could discover through Google, but what I’ve found bears little resemblance to the story I remember. There’s the saguaro cactus in Arizona which can take a hundred years to fully mature, but its blooms don’t wait that long. Then there is the agave, often called the “century plant.” It has been said to only bloom after 100 years, but that’s a fable. Agaves do take a long time to bloom but can do so in as early as 10 years in a hot climate, or up to 25 or 30 years in a cooler climate. 

But this isn’t really about a cactus. In fact, whether or not what I read was true or whether or not I actually read what I think I read doesn’t really matter.  I could have dreamed it. None of that changes the fact that I believed I read about this cactus that blooms only after a hundred years and the blooms were worth the wait. And none of that changes the fact that this story, whether real or exaggerated or completely fabricated, resonated with me on such a level that I still remember it thirty years later. 

During the decade or so after I did or did not read this true or untrue statement about a cactus that may or may not exist, I told the story many times as situations called for it. And I would always say, “I’m the hundred-year cactus.  It’s going to take me a while to bloom, but, baby, when I do, it will be worth it.” I said it so many times that it started to qualify as a mantra. 

Some might say that I affirmed my way into a late-blooming life. I think, rather, that I relieved some of the stress native to the first decade or so of adulthood that compels us to chase success and achievement. Instead, I went with the flow. I had a lot of jobs during that time, bad ones and good ones, embarrassing ones and even somewhat impressive ones. I let life lead and stepped into opportunities as they presented themselves but didn’t actively pursue them. One of those opportunities involved going back to college as a 29-year-old sophomore. For a late bloomer, 29 is a perfect age for college. 

After college and grad school, I started teaching, and I wondered then if this was the blooming. In a way, it might have been, at least the best blooming available at the time. 

But I was still plowing the earth and planting seeds and fertilizing and watering as well. And the cool thing is that after you plow and plant and water, the blooming is out of your hands.  Nature just has to take its course. 

During this past year, many years after I first heard or misheard the cactus story, and many years after graduate school and the start of my teaching career, I started a Tik Tok account that has 60,000 followers; started a podcast which has a few listeners – the most important of whom is listening right now, of course; became the interim minister at an interfaith, affirming, inclusive church; started an interfaith seminary program; and most recently, I’ve been invited to be the commencement speaker at my college’s graduation, something that held the number one spot — I am not exaggerating — on my bucket list.  In addition, I’ve recently received two speaking invitations that would qualify as a definite leveling up from my previous speaking gigs. 

All of this feels like a bloom. 

It could be that my younger self intuitively knew how my adulthood would progress. It could also be that I really did affirm this reality into existence. After thinking about it for almost a lifetime, I think it’s a little of both. 

Pay attention to what resonates. Find the affirmation that fits it like a glove. Say it over and over and over again. Say it every time it comes up. That’s the way you plow the field.  

Then let it go and watch to see what blooms. It might take a while, but it’ll be worth it. 

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