The breeze chilled my skin as the sun dipped just below the tips of the pines. Only 4 p.m., I still protested the shorter days and longer nights.
The first frost of the season, despite our warmer than average fall, would come right on time. I headed toward the garden to harvest the last of my summer crops, a task I always dreaded.
I picked up my bucket and walked to a raised bed. I found a few straggling red bell peppers and tossed them into the bucket. Then I moved to the jalapeño plant, every inch covered with plump, ripe, green fruit. This plant had been exceptionally productive this year.
I unthreaded the bucket’s handle from my arm and placed it under the plant. Tugging each fruit and letting them fall into the bucket turned out a much more efficient strategy. As I looked up to pluck the next jalapeño in line, my eyes caught an interesting sight on the plant: tiny white flowers.
I knew these flowers held the promise of more blessed jalapeños. But their smiling innocence contrasted with what I knew the night would bring.
The killing frost would put an end to that plant’s season and decimate the flowers before they ever began growing fruit.
The orange sky, with fewer rays penetrating the pines now, prodded me to continue picking. But my hands didn’t move. My eyes lingered.
Didn’t this plant know that winter was on the way? Couldn’t it sense by the dipping temperatures and abbreviated daylight hours that time was limited?
Why continue to produce flowers? Why not close its growth, knowing its season was strong and good?
Four years ago I had the privilege to speak to senior adults at a local church on practical ways to invest in the next generation. After the event, a pleasant elderly gentleman walked up to me.
He first shared that he was 93 years old. Then he listed which suggestions from my speech he planned to put into practice with those younger than him in his life.
I was astounded.
If anyone had reason to call it a day and rest in the fruit of his labor, it was this man. Instead, he kept blooming — producing flowers no matter his age or life stage. I saw in him a passion to make a difference. To love well. To never give up. To invest in those who would live on after him.
Two years later, I saw that this gentleman had passed away at the age of 95. He is who came to mind when I saw those beautiful, strong flowers on my jalapeño plant in mid-November.
As December gives us longer nights and shorter days, as vibrant summer plants fade into memories, I’ll remember the unlikely jalapeño flowers from mid-November.
Despite the darkness surrounding us, despite portents of endings on the horizon, may giving up never be an option. Our tenacity to make a difference when even nature tells us to rest may just be the example someone needs to keep going.