The first time I walked past the apartment building, my nose wrinkled involuntarily. A littered lot with dry, cracked soil sat disconsolately on its left side. Weeds scrabbled at the side of the building with skeleton-like fingers. A straggly cluster of marigolds, the remains of a better year's planting, gazed at me forlornly. Even they looked discouraged.
I was glad my new apartment wasn't in the neighboring complex, but I couldn't stop thinking about the fact that I'd have to walk past this lot twice a day on my way to and from work.
My strong feelings surprised me, and I thought at some length about that virtually lifeless lot over the next few days. Why did I harbor such revulsion for it? Was I just a spoiled suburbanite who needed to get used to the grit and gristle of city life?
At first, I chalked up my displeasure to my love of color. I wanted flowers, plants, anything that spoke of life and vibrancy. I would have settled for a carpet of grass, green with the promise of summer. I longed for these sights amid the concrete grays and red-brown brick of the city. I wanted something cheery to brighten the monotony of sidewalks and storefronts, something fresh to soften the harsh angularities of street signs and row after row of cramped and boxy buildings.
But later, I realized I wanted more than that. I was dismayed by that lot because I knew it was imbued with hope. But nobody seemed to be paying attention.
I would be in the city for six weeks before moving into my new apartment in early September when the lease began. It was a time of adjustments new job, new budget, new routine, new life. Though I relished my independence, I felt slightly off-kilter, as though I was wearing someone else's shoes.
My friends joked with me about my being a "big girl" as I began to settle into the life of a working woman. I had a cellphone, a 401(k) account, my own set of dishes. These items spoke to me of my adult life unfolding before my eyes. But a part of me still felt like an actress in over her head I wasn't sure I could pull off the role.
Weeks passed. I became accustomed to wearing dress clothes every day. For the first time, my name appeared on the masthead of the magazine where I worked. I received a regular paycheck for a sum it used to take me an entire year to make. These outward signs were all symbols of my newfound "adulthood." But something inside me was changing, too.
Early September. Move-in day. I was walking at a rapid clip toward my new apartment when I stopped, stunned. It was as though nature was holding a fireworks display in that once-forsaken lot. Zinnias and geraniums lifted their colorful heads toward the morning sun. Marigolds lined the edge of the garden. Flowers I didn't know in reds, purples, pinks, and yellows greeted me with their enthusiastic colors, welcoming me to the neighborhood. Bees hummed their contentment. And the sweet smell of roses mingled tantalizingly with the spicy, vegetal smell of earth, water, and new growth.
There was the hope I'd been looking for, blooming in full glory. And as I gazed and wondered at this lot, I knew there was more at work here than a project of cleanup and renewal. The empty lot-turned-flower garden spoke to me of the potential of growing into my own promise. That's when it hit me: As the flowers were blooming, so was I.
This new life, this beginning of adulthood was more than learning to "walk the walk" of the adult world, more than added responsibilities and privileges, more than my frequent falterings and occasional triumphs. I wasn't just a kid wearing adult clothes anymore. What I'd found within myself was the promise of all I was and all I could become.
Just as I'd seen potential in that once-empty lot, so my friends and family and co-workers had seen promise in me. But so long as I'd harbored doubts of my own "bloomability," so long as I saw myself as the baby among a collection of older, wiser colleagues, I felt my new title, new clothes, new digs were little more than constant reminders of my own unworthiness.
But I'd been wrong about the marigolds I'd seen at the beginning of the summer. They didn't testify to the lot's unworthiness; they heralded its promise.
I'd also been wrong about myself. I wasn't just a kid playing dress-up anymore, a caterpillar trying out wings. That garden knew its promise, but it took someone on the outside to take notice. The difference in my case was that the person who hadn't been paying attention to my own promise was me.
Standing there, in front of that flower extravaganza, I knew I was ready to embrace the transformed self that the world had already seen. And so, once again, I followed the example of the flowers whose blooms had helped me see my own. I lifted my arms, smiled, and reached to the sun.