The incident is still so seared in my brain many decades later that it is as if it happened yesterday. I must have been 7 years old when I was sitting next to my blind grandfather at Chipewa Village in Lundazi in Eastern Zambia in Southern Africa. My grandfather had perfect sight and was the hardest working man I had ever known until two years before when he suddenly developed thick cataracts in both eyes and became blind. He and I used to sit around and joke a lot, teasing each other back and forth.
One day, he suddenly asked: “Mwizenge, when you grow up, what kind of a woman are you going to marry?” I gave him a series of traditional childish answers from boys that included invariably the standard “most beautiful woman in our tribe.”
He paused, raising his head staring blankly into space as he raised his right open hand and slowly waved it back and forth across and said:
“Mwana wane (my child), women are the many beautiful flowers on earth. You cannot pick all of them and take them home. You should choose only the one most beautiful flower, take it home, and keep it for the rest of your life. You cannot pick all the beautiful flowers of the world. You will never be happy.”
Many young men spend months, perhaps years, looking at many flowers looking for the one they find the most beautiful. The day they take that flower home is their happiest. They gaze into the eyes of the flower night and day with deep love, devotion, and do practically everything the flower desires.
When the flower gives birth to the first baby flower, this is a cause of great celebration. The flower may produce as many as five and sometimes 10 flowers. These are trying times with both tensions and joy for the one and now suddenly many other flowers in the household. Tending to and raising the many flowers present unexpected challenges that have to be overcome, including producing food, emotional support and other important necessities of life. This is why the vows include: “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death.” You have to continue to love and cherish the flower no matter what. This is a very tall order.
Sometimes, there is neglect and abuse of the flower such that it begins to wither. The flower might wander away in protest from the home, seeking solace from other sources. This is sometimes when they seek God, counseling and community intervention.
As the flower gets older, some of the original stunning physical beauty might somewhat fade. But the soul reflected in the passion of the voice still remains strong. Tragically, the flower may get dangerously sick and even die sometimes in flower birth. These are the dark days when the entire enterprise called life itself is severely challenged.
The men who might be the most miserable are ones who chose one flower to take home but then still have eyes on other flowers. They abandon the flower they have for new one. These men cause misery for the flower they took home and themselves and their flower children. Today in America 50% of the choices of flowers are abandoned and unions easily disintegrate, causing untold misery for too many people, including flower children.
True to his marital principles, my grandfather had only one flower in his long life, my grandmother. After over 15 years after he became blind, his flower (my grandmother) passed away. My grandfather lived without his flower for 10 more years when he also passed away.
The wisdom of being around grandparents is that they can plant a seed in their grandchild at a very young age that can have a profound impact on the child’s entire life. I have lived by my grandfather’s flower metaphor all my life. Although he never articulated any details beyond the few sentences that memorable childhood afternoon, much of what he said has come true in my life.
Mwizenge S. Tembo lives in Bridgewater.