The Challenge of Embracing That Which We Cannot Change

Have the life you want by being present to the life you have.

Mark Nepo, spiritual writer/poet


Convallaria majalis.

Lily of the Valley, a delicate flower that blooms in the spring (late April and early May) is a sweetly-scented and highly poisonous plant native throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The flower was a favorite of my wife’s Aunt Rose, who, at the age of 101, passed away in the early morning hours of the Wednesday of Holy Week.

Aunt Rose came to live with us after her 99th birthday, when we suggested that she should no longer live alone in her city row-home (we now call them townhouses). Never married, independent, and an accomplished nurse-anesthetist, she had definite opinions and ideas, including her own funeral arrangements. She wrote that she wanted no flowers except for Lily of the Valley, but only if it was in season. We happen to have two beds of the flower in our backyard, but it had not blossomed by the time of her funeral on Easter Monday.

Instead, I found fresh Lily of the Valley that could be ordered online, but each stem cost about ten dollars. Aunt Rose, a practical and frugal woman, would not have approved that expense! So we thought that silk Lily of the Valley mixed with Canadian white freesia, which is very fragrant, would make an appropriate bouquet for the funeral. And that is what we did. Yesterday, when I arrived home from church, I saw the first blooms of Lily of the Vally in our backyard – one week too late.


Known as “Our Lady’s tears,” the droplets of Lily of the Valley blossoms symbolize the tears of the Virgin Mary at the crucifixion of Jesus. In addition, the flower is often used in traditional bridal bouquets. I am not sure why Lily of the Valley was Aunt Rose’s favorite flower. Was it the sweet fragrance, the delicate blossoms, or perhaps the symbolism? The simplicity of the flower may have been the overall appeal. In any event, the flower was one week too late!

How many times in our lives have our personal calendars been upset by circumstances beyond our control? And often, we try to go to the extreme to make what we want – what we had originally planned, happen. In her own practical and simple way, Aunt Rose told us what she wanted, and absolutely what she did not want, cautioning us countless times not to deviate from her simple arrangements. Yet, in the emotion of the moment, we wanted to “honor” her wishes by importing a flower out of season at an elaborate expense. Thankfully, we paused and reflected on what she would have wanted, realizing that it was ok.

Sometimes I wonder if, in this culture of constant improvement, of exceeding previous goals, of going “above and beyond,” and breaking records, we have not compromised our sense of acceptance of those things that we cannot change. It often becomes difficult for us to not get what we want.

At this time of the year, our seniors have already received their college acceptances, rejections and wait-lists. Our juniors are working hard to maintain their GPA’s, elevate their ACT/SAT scores, and build their essays for the college admissions process ahead. Our freshman and sophomores have their own challenges too. And at some point, while we “push the envelope” of our capabilities, we have to acknowledge that we have done all that we can do, and accept that which we cannot change.

It is not defeat; it is accepting the course of events and working with them. And I believe that these moments of disappointment or frustration when our plans do not materialize as we had anticipated, are opportunities for teaching and reflection – a time to let go and embrace the challenge.

All of our students at Archmere are wonderful creations of God, each with unique talents and gifts. As the 2013-14 academic year draws to a close in a few weeks, and students assess their individual experiences, I hope that they celebrate successes. Most importantly, I hope they can acknowledge their failures and recognize what could and could not be helped.

As much as I wanted fresh Lily of the Valley for Aunt Rose’s funeral, it just was not practical. And she would have agreed. Instead, we will enjoy the fragrance of the cut blossoms in our home this week, and we will surely bring a bouquet to her resting place in remembrance.