Have you ever seen an orchid wither from the living?
After months of lying dormant—molting to a literal stick in the mud—there’s a temptation to cut your losses and toss the orchid in the bin. It’s easy to forget that the stick has a root system—a subconscious—an invisible governing force that, with the right conditions, can generate and regenerate buds.
And when those buds appear, they spark joy. The remembrance that there’s life after all—that the promise and potential of the future perseveres. If we didn’t know better—if we thought the buds were the full expression of the orchid’s offering—it would be enough. More than enough, actually. Ethereal tear-drop shaped green fists with streaks of lacy pink. The buds are travelers on their way to somewhere else, and, even in their liminality, they are perfect. Tight and sturdy, protected from the harshness of the outside world. If the buds stayed as buds, they would be beautiful.
But the buds don’t stay that way. They dare to proceed past the mysterious threshold of what lies beyond beauty. When the time is right—when the root system is properly triggered, or perhaps, empowered—the bud cracks and within 24 hours the delicate layers peel back in an ethereal yawn. Each bud on its own timeline, paying no mind to who’s first or last. When it’s time for an orchid to bloom, it blooms without hesitation, as if it’s overcome by a sudden and unexpected joy, as if it’s experiencing the beginning of love. There is a fearlessness that exudes from orchids when it’s time to bloom. It’s as if orchids know that joy is not made to be a crumb. It’s that knowing—buried somewhere deep in the subterranean root system—that fuels the risk to bloom.
And when it’s time to bloom, the buds transform to an otherworldly blossom, filling this world with a presence that lies beyond beauty. An orchid’s captivating oddities would tempt any outsider to pluck, pull apart, demystify this creature. Just by fully expressing itself, the orchid opens itself to peril, to nazar, to the gaze of so many. Just by being itself. Such dangerous unwanted intrusions. The orchid has every reason to stay a bud—to exist in this world like a tightly bound, impenetrable fist—to be beautiful and safe.
But the orchid proceeds to a realm that lies beyond beautiful and safe. It unfurls its insides so that they become its outsides. Who could have guessed the shape and parts of an orchid are what they are? Probably not even the orchid. An unimaginable, divinely constructed architecture that could only be known through the unfurling. By exposing what was once inside to the nourishing sun, the orchid—like the joyful stretch of a newborn being freed from its swaddle—takes up more space in this world.
On the one hand, the former bud foregoes safety by inviting predators to feed off its generosity. On the other hand, the present blossom invites divine collaborations with the likes of bees, butterflies, hummingbirds. To be a bud is to be beautiful and safe. To be a blossom is to sing in the call and response of life’s interconnectedness.
Life is in the unfolding—the intuitive path to blossomhood. Life is also in the retreating—the release to death. Orchids know when it’s time to bloom and when it’s time to wither, and honors each part of this dance without judgment. Just like how a wave’s ebb is no better or worse than its flow, the time of life and the time of death are symbiotic peers. Vulnerability is the mysterious, risky force that transforms bud to blossom—the force that fuels the cycle of life to death back to life again.
Have you ever seen an orchid rise from the dead?
Anam is a writer and social justice activist. She lived in Palestine for five years, leading a coding school in Gaza and the West Bank. Anam has been shortlisted for the 2021 Wasafiri Emerging Writers Prize for her first work of fiction, and is currently working on her first book, a collection of personal essays reflecting on her time in Palestine. She is the youngest daughter of Pakistani immigrants. Subscribe to her newsletter: anamraheem.substack.com.