Galetto – The woman who raised the white marigold


The Wedding of Laura Ashley Smith and Kyle David Pernelli
United States Military Academy
West Point, New York
June 2, 2018

Paul W. Galetto, O.S.A.

Tobit 8: 4b-8
1 Cor 12: 31 – 13: 8
Mark 10: 6-9

“The woman who raised the white marigold”

When I was a young boy I can remember having an existential crisis. Everyone would always ask me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I figured this must be a really important question because everyone wanted to know the answer. I knew I needed to find an answer and so one day I thought I would start to explore my options. As a seven-year-old boy, I wasn’t aware of the many life choices that awaited me; I knew a few, however. My father was in construction and every night at the dinner table he would come home and I remember hearing stories about how difficult a job it was. There were always problems with the job site or with the materials or with the laborers, masons, or carpenters. It didn’t take me long to cross off construction from the list of potential careers.

My uncle was a farmer and from my pre-adolescent perspective it looked pretty easy: put some seeds in the ground, water them, take the harvest to market and collect money. I figured I could do that and it was worth a try. I got on my gold-colored banana seat bike and pedaled to the corner hardware store (there were no Home Depots or Lowe’s in my childhood). When I walked in the store I immediately saw the black aluminum carousel that held all the packets of Burpee seeds. At the four-foot eye level I saw a packet that changed my life. It was a packet of marigold seeds and on the packet were written the words, “Grow the white marigold and win $50,000.” I may not have known what career I wanted but I found out in a hurry that I wanted to be a capitalist! I bought several packets of the seeds and hurried home as quickly as my little legs could pedal. I was going to be the first one to raise the white marigold and revel in the riches it would bring.

I raided my mother’s cabinet and took out several Dixie paper cups. I filled them with mud, stuck my finger in each and threw in several seeds and covered them up. I watered, watered and watered and couldn’t wait to see the results. Which cup was going to have the path to riches and unimaginable wealth? As the sun rose in the sky so did my hope. Eventually the first blossoms exposed themselves. What color do you think they were? Gold, of course – that’s why they’re called marigolds. I was thoroughly disgusted and I think it was at that point I decided to become a priest!

I do remember that next spring I was back in the hardware store and when the seeds went on display, there was the same temptation of $50,000. I bought a few packs and brought them home; did the Dixie cup, mud and water routine again; and again, the same results. I think that was my last ever attempt at farming. Theology – here I come.

Fast forward about thirty years. I walked into a doctor’s waiting room and began rummaging through the reading materials. As you may know, doctors’ waiting rooms are where old magazines go to await burial before they head to recycle heaven. As I was thumbing through the offerings my eyes fell upon an old Reader’s Digest. On the cover it said: “The Woman Who Raised the White Marigold.” I didn’t care if the nurse ever called me to see the doctor, I had to find out what happened! This was must reading.

It turns out a woman in California was nothing more than an average gardener; she had no advanced degrees in genetics or botany or biology. In fact, back in the early 1960s it was thought that it was impossible to grow a white marigold. This woman knew none of that. What she did was, every year she would take the lightest of her marigolds and put them to one side and re plant their seeds. The darker ones she discarded as they did not serve her purpose. Through repeating this process of patiently planting the seeds of the lightest and brightest flowers for a few years she was the one who achieved what was thought impossible and won the $50,000.

There is a great lesson here for our bride and groom and for all of us. In a few months from now there is going to come a time when the bride and groom have their first spat. The bride is going to see her bridesmaid-friends and say to them, “I can’t believe he said such and such.” The groom is going to get together with his posse of ushers and tell them, “You won’t believe what she did.” At this point we have two choices: We can commiserate with them and tell them, “You’re right he/she is a horrible person.” Or we can say: “Remember that wonderful homily at your wedding? The priest said we have to take the seeds of the lighter and brighter flowers and replant them. Well, that’s what you have to do here. Forget this dark moment; there have been too many great and beautiful moments to just focus on this one. Re-plant the light and bright and discard the dark and gloomy.” This is our obligation as the family and friends of the bride and groom: We must always help them to focus on the right things, the things that will sustain their love.

Today is the beautiful day of the wedding – the ceremonial part. Everyone looks so handsome or pretty. All the men are clean-shaven and the women have their hair coiffed just right. The real sacrament of marriage, however, is going to take place in a few months from now. The groom is going to wake up with morning breath after a frustrating day at work. The bride is going to have bed-head and feel like she went through the wringer by doing many of the ungrateful tasks that are part of the daily drudgery. At this point they turn over in bed and look at each other and say, “Oh my God, I’m married to that! And I’m glad to be married to that!” That is the sacrament. It is easy to love each other when we are beautiful and perfect but it is in those less wonderful moments that we really need to love one another. It another time to plant the light and bright seeds and discard the dark and gloomy.

Many years ago there was a movie entitled Love Story. It starred Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neill. There was a famous line from the movie that made the rounds of pop culture: “Love means you never have to say you’re sorry.” Oh my God, what a lie that is! Love means you have to say you’re sorry about one hundred times a day! Because we love someone we do things for them and because we are human, we make mistakes. But because we love one another we forgive those mistakes. Forgiveness is the surest sign of love. Forgiveness is planting the light and bright and discarding the dark and gloomy. If we want this marriage to survive we have to let go of the pain and the hurt and focus on the good and great.

To the bride and groom: We your family and friends are here to support you and love you. Your love for each other enriches us and that in turn enriches you. The prayer of each one of us is that you will always remember to re-plant again and again the lightest and brightest moments of your life so that you can realize the White Marigold of love. God bless you.