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Excerpt from ‘I Stopped Fighting the Flowers’

As a kid, my house was surrounded on three sides by what seemed to me ever-blooming lilac bushes. The scent coming from those lilac bushes was positively intoxicating. Even in winter, I was convinced that I could smell some distant, lingering trace of the lilacs sleeping under the snow. In the summer, I would be high from the smell of lilacs. I’d lie under the crabapple tree in our front yard, shaded and drowsy, and just breathe it all in. I was a voracious reader then, and still am. I would read and dream, dream and read. The lilacs’ scent was the fragrant anesthesia that carried me off to the fantasyland of my childhood.

Those lilacs seemed to require very little maintenance. Some occasional watering and lots of sunshine were all it took to propel them towards the sky and release the scent I adore. My parents never pruned them or gave them fertilizer. They never talked to the bushes while stroking their buds. Nah. Those plants wanted to thrive and they did.

After all of the time I’ve spent trying to get my own lilacs to grow, I’ve learned something. If a plant does not want to thrive, it will not. The will is everything. I can work every form of magic that I know, but they will still go on and die. They have their own set of priorities that have nothing to do with me. The more I push, the more they resist.

The lilacs are a lot like people.

At my nursing job, I have a little lady (and I do mean little—she weighs in at a slight 86 pounds), who wants to die. She does not want to get out of bed, eat, do physical therapy, or talk to anyone. When I look at her emaciated frame lying in bed, there is a part of her that has receded. The part that holds the essence of her life force is in permanent hibernation. The internal pilot light of her soul is barely lit, and it is painfully obvious to everyone. Death is coming for a visit, and he will not leave empty-handed.

Her family is apoplectic. They want us to force her to eat and get out of bed. “Do something! Make her eat! She will eat if you just give her the food she likes!” they exclaim. And we try, we do. But it doesn’t do any good. She doesn’t want to live, and has made that clear, with every rejected bite of food and stern refusal to move an inch. Her caregivers come to me, palms open and facing skyward, and with halting broken English say, “She don’t want to do nothing. What I can do?”

I used to think that being a part of the world of medicine with all of its technology, medications, and vast knowledge, I would help keep people alive, no matter what. This was the naiveté that carried me through the first years of my nursing practice. We push the envelope on every front, breathing for people when their lungs don’t work, pumping them full of I.V. antibiotics when their immune systems are overwhelmed by infection, and stitching them back together when their bodies are ripped open by trauma. I was convinced that we medical professionals could beat back most of the tragedies that threaten to cut a life short.  And we do manage to pull off a lot of major—and minor—miracles.

But what cannot be beaten back is that will. The will is more powerful than any surgery, treatment, or tincture. It has a veneer of iron, and when intentionally raised, is impenetrable to any curative weapon created by man. You can kill bacteria, but not the will of someone who has made up their mind to die.

Excerpt from the essay “I Stopped Fighting the Flowers”, Copyright 2009 Hudson.

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