I can still hear her Southern drawl as she referred to those plants in her yard as “walking iris.” She was in her wheelchair, thinning out her garden. She proudly showed me a large bag full of the plants she had pulled out of the ground, a bag full of walking iris and dirt. She insisted I take the bag with me, since she would just throw it away. I asked her why she called them walking iris. I had never heard of them. She explained that the flowers send out runners and spread as easily through her garden as if they were walking around. As iris go, they were petite, with small, fragile-looking, yellow flowers, but she was sure that I could grow them, since they were a hardy plant.
She said they do well in shade, so I took them home and planted them under a big oak tree with so much shade that hardly anything grows there. Well, she was right. They grew easily and covered a large area under that big old tree. When I moved from that house, I dug up a big bag full of walking iris and planted them again under an oak tree at my new house. The pretty little yellow flowers blooming in the spring always bring a smile to my face. These little guys will be with me forever because they hold a very special meaning to me.
That petite Southern lady who gave me those flowers was someone that inspires me and that I will never forget. She weighed only about ninety pounds, but she was the strongest person I have ever known. Hers wasn’t a physical strength; she had that inner strength that gets you through life…a strength that can only come from above that inspires everyone who comes near it.
I met her when she was in her thirties. She faced many struggles. She’d been in a car accident when she was eighteen and was paralyzed from the waist down. Her fiancé couldn’t cope with her situation, so he left. She moved on though; got her college degree and became a teacher. She got married, and she and her husband lived in a simple house with Pumpkin, a stray cat they took in. She had a heart of gold and always did whatever she could to help another soul, even animals.
Being in a wheelchair didn’t slow her down. She did everything she needed to do from that chair. At school, she didn’t take any lip from her students. She taught middle school in an area known for violence, but those kids knew that she cared about them, and they respected her for that. This is not her whole story though; she had many other challenges, and that is what inspires everyone about her. I was young and still believed that life should be fair. If someone was paralyzed, I thought, then that’s their challenge for life. Life shouldn’t throw any other challenges their way. But that is not how life is—unfortunately, life often is not fair at all.
She was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo major surgery and chemo. It took her months to recover, but she couldn’t wait to get back to the classroom and be with her students again. This is when I met her. She was always thinking about others, even as she was going through this. She worried about everyone else. She wasn’t working, so money was tight, but she was worried about a neighbor girl who looked hungry. So she made her a tomato and cheese sandwich. She felt bad that it was all she could afford to give her, a tomato from her garden and a slice of cheese on plain white bread, but the little girl said it was the best thing she ever ate.
A little while later, my friend was diagnosed with another type of cancer and had to have surgery again. Really? Becoming paralyzed and having cancer twice should have been enough to crush anyone—but she never let it get her down. She stayed strong in her faith and continued to be a ray of sunshine to everyone she met. Next, my friend developed a blood clot and had to have her leg amputated. This was the only thing I ever heard her complain about. “Even if it was a paralyzed leg, it was still my leg,” she said. “I miss it.” She recovered from that challenge and returned to the classroom where she continued to give her best and inspires her students. Just like the Energizer Bunny, she just kept on going.
This is why that plant with delicate yellow flowers is so special to me. This plant will bloom even in the darkest part of the garden. It brings beauty where there is very little light. It doesn’t just survive; it thrives in any condition. It reminds me of my friend. She had the ability to shine, no matter where she was or what she was going through.
She inspires me to do my part, to be something bright in all circumstances. She inspires me to spread hope like her walking iris.
Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.
Written by Sue Moose
Photo by Mack Fox (MusicFox)