I was awakened last night by the overpowering perfume of the flower of the night-blooming cactus I was gifted with on my last birthday. Lost and forgotten among the riffraff in my garden, this cactus called out to me to be noticed, and so I did, and I partook of the beauty and the fragrance of it till morning light.
The “Queen of the Night” cereus cactus belongs to the family of flowering plants characterized by their fleshy stems, clustered spines and flowers with many petals. Most cacti live in habitats subject to extremely dry spells or droughts. So well-adapted to arid conditions are they that cacti dominate the flora of all the desert regions of the New World from Canada to Chile. Among the world’s toughest plants, cacti are capable of surviving for decades. The lifespan of some cacti species can range from 10 to 300 years.
Some people, because of their hardiness and resilience, are like cacti. Alone of all primitive peoples, the Eskimos or the Inuit live permanently in the inhospitable Arctic and subarctic regions from eastern Siberia to Alaska, northern Canada and Greenland. Only 900 miles from the North Pole, these circumpolar peoples live north of everybody else in the world, under the most forbidding and formidable conditions that any human beings can endure. Average temperature during winter is ten below zero while that in summer is just above the freezing point. For four months in winter, from November to February, Eskimos don’t get to see the sun at all.
The Bedouins, on the other hand, are nomadic Arab tribes who have traditionally inhabited the vast desert regions of North Africa all the way to the rocky sands of the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East. These “desert dwellers” share a common culture of herding camels and goats.
The result of the latest Social Weather Stations survey conducted in April 2022 showed that 3.1 million Filipino families have experienced hunger. Of this number, 2.9 percent or 744,000 experienced severe hunger “often” or “always” over the last three months.
In the north, people of the snow hunger for the warmth of the unknown sun during winter. In the south, people of the world’s deserts are hungry for water. Elsewhere in the world, people hunger for food, for love, for peace, for truth and for justice. Hunger is a human condition. We have a constant hunger. We want, endlessly, to be happy and to be free.
And yet, the desert tribes of North Africa do not realize that beneath them lies the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System, the world’s largest known fossil water aquifer system, containing an estimated 150,000 km3 of groundwater. Who among the Eskimos of old, they who used to burn blubber for light and warmth, knew that under their very feet sprawls the vast Canadian Shield, stretching north from the Great Lakes to the Arctic Ocean, covering over half of Canada and most of Greenland ? Beneath the surface of this geological shield lie huge deposits of minerals, metallic ores and petroleum.
Why can’t we men be like cacti? They are silent, immobile and patient but, of a sudden and as if on cue, flower and bloom, thickening the rarefied air of the deserts with their fragrance. To defend themselves from animals that eat them, cacti arm themselves with an arsenal of spines, prickles and thorns, brandishing these sharp ends of their determination like swords and sabers. The night-blooming cereus puts out flowers whose fragrance wafts in the breeze of a summer night for miles on end, to remind those they have entranced and enraptured that life is, despite itself, indeed worth living.
Sit tight, therefore, and wait for the right moment, that signal from God, for you to put forth your own flowers and fruits. In the meantime, brandish your thorns as if these were poniards, to keep the human animals that threaten you at bay. Know that you hold within you a vast aquifer of indomitability, an impregnable shield of hope.
You can be living in a big house yet still feel empty all over. You can die of thirst while adrift in the ocean. The human heart is a rimless, bottomless jar that no Nile nor Niagara could fill or fulfill. Still, hunger can be sated, mitigated or moderated. The secret of happiness is not to be found in feeding your hunger for more but in settling for what you have less of, in developing the capacity to enjoy the little that you already have. Like a bird in the hand. Why make a fuss over a bluebird on the wing? Greed is a human aberration, a subnormality. Make do with what you have. Be happy with what you have not.