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. 

Deb’s Life: Take 48. And . . . Action!

For the last 29 years, I have been primarily focused on, motivated by, and invested in a primary relationship.  For those who know me, you know it hasn’t always been the same one.  There have been two profound and lengthy relationships, ones which I would call “marriages” despite the legal limitations.  Those two relationships dominated the last 18 years.  There were others, not as long but also important.

During those 29 years (and, yes, every time I write that number I taste a little vomit in the back of my throat), my energy, my earning power, and my ego were all wrapped up in the identity I clung to as one half of a coupled whole.  I heard myself introduced as the unit so often I now have to remind myself that my first name isn’t actually “Deband.”

These relationships were deeply important to me, and I certainly don’t want anything I write to imply otherwise.  My most recent relationship, especially, is still a tender place deep within that alternately sends waves of sadness and release flooding through my spirit.  I mourn it daily.  But, this particular post isn’t really about that, . . . the “that” which is still too real and close and painful to take life in the written word.

This post is about what I didn’t focus on for the past 29 years.  My drive, my natural abilities, my career, my professional fulfillment.  It is about the Ph.D. I didn’t get (yet!), the job security I didn’t manifest, the retirement fund I didn’t build.  This is not the fault of my relationships; it is the fault of the way I was in my relationships.  I operated on the principle that relationships always took priority, but I never realized how I neglected my relationship with myself.

I was a hell of a partner in many ways.  I knew how to show up, support, be strong.  I knew the characteristics of a “good partner,” and I knew just when and how to display them.  I knew how to appear the way I knew others, my partner AND friends and family, expected me to appear.

Some might say I was playing a part.  If you are currently mad at me, your verbage would be that “it was all a big act.”  But the only act a person can keep up for 10 years (18 years, 29 years) is a delusion perpetuated on self.  A consciously directed duplicity would be a role that I, for one, could never maintain for an extended period without breaking out of character.

What really happened is this:  I loved some people really well for a long time over the last three decades, but I never had the proper perspective on where I fit in those equations.  I helped to create a sense of home and family, but I forgot to build in my personal aspirations or pave a way for my core needs to be met.  Deband was all over it, but Deb was nowhere to be found.

So, I’m 47.  I’m filling out grad school applications.  My car is the bottom-of-the-line Toyota, the kind I would have bought at 22 when I still could only dream of the cars I would yet own.  I fold my own clothes and toast my own bagel.

I have two dogs and a five-year plan.  Most importantly, I have me.  Perhaps for the very first time, I have me.

Stripped Down to Nothing

When I was a child, I had a recurring nightmare about being sent to prison.  I thought that would be the worst thing that could ever happen to a person.  I would wake in a start, sheets damp from my sweat, and feel the most intense sense of relief as I realized that the bars had been a dream.

I was reminded of the dream recently as I read a memoir by Neil White titled In The Sanctuary of Outcasts.  White is a typical southern business man with shirts pressed into cracker-crisp submission, the requisite stories of his time in the frat house at Ole’ Miss, and the dual social safety nets of family ties and southern white privilege to catch him when he falls.  Until he finally falls too hard.

Neil White was convicted of check kiting in the early 90s and sentenced to 18 months in a minimum-security prison.  He was incarcerated in Carville, LA, in a facility that, oddly enough, also housed one of the last remaining “leper colonies” in the country.  As he meets and befriends both patients and prisoners, and more importantly, as he privately ponders all he has lost and what he might ever have again, White undergoes a transformation, the transformation we must all undergo to become fully human.  It is behind the bars of a prison — removed from his family, removed from his social status, removed from his lifelong need for approval and recognition — that Neil White begins to taste freedom for the first time.

I have recently undergone a “stripped-down-to-nothing” experience.  Much like Neil White, I can’t say I enjoyed the early stages of this process.  The shock of having my life changed so completely was not an easy swallow.  Those days contained pain and sorrow and sadness and self-pity.  I was numb, but nowhere near numb enough.

And then, things started to change.  Just a little at first.  The change was soft and slow and subtle.  And so incredibly profound.

Any material losses became as a speck of sand to the great ocean of self-discovery into which I now daily dive.  Releasing the material, in fact, was key to my transformative process.  I have a fourth of what I used to have, and I’m still thinking there are some items I could give away.

Two years ago, I again dreamed I was in prison.  I had the dream three times that summer.  I believe I now understand the personal reasons why.  I won’t delve into the specifics of that here, but suffice it to say that the bars in my dream did not represent a person or situation.  They weren’t symbolic of my job, my relationship, or my financial situation.  They didn’t stand for some trauma in childhood or sense of inadequacy.

The bars were the disconnect between the me who moves through time and space and the me who is actually living this life.  They were the great mysterious veil between my projected self and my true nature.  They were the barrier I erected between knowledge and understanding.

It is only when everything else is stripped away, when there is nothing left but you and the bars, that you can see them for what they are.  And then you can remember . . . the bars are only a dream; it is the freedom that is real.