Cherry blossoms through two connected lifetimes

A student describes how a recurring symbol in her grandmother’s paintings catalyzed her personal growth.


Once a year, an opulent bloom of cherry blossoms comes around, radiating beauty and signifying spring with their delicate pink florets. 

I saw one in the backyard of the house across the street in my hometown Nazareth, Pennsylvania, and I saw an abundance of them during a family vacation to Washington, D.C. The elegant array of flowers entranced me as a wide-eyed 9 year old. 

In Japan, where the cherry blossoms are most culturally significant, they’re called sakura, and they have a long-standing reputation as an emblem of identity and life. They’re symbols of renewal and hope, and their meaning is continuously celebrated by the Japanese people.

Just like me, my grandmother loved cherry blossoms. She was born in Tokyo, Japan, and came to Long Island, New York, in the 1950s to build a life and family. I never got to meet her, but I know she was a fantastic painter. I’ve envisioned who she was through family stories, photographs and the beautiful painted canvases she left to my family. 

When I was 18, I found a collection of her artwork in my attic that I hadn’t seen before. It was heartwarming to find that cherry blossom trees were the one recurring facet in each painting. 

Once I saw my grandmother’s artistic connection to the cherry blossoms, I began to identify with their deeper meaning.

Cherry blossoms thrive for only two weeks each year before they wither and fall away until their next annual emergence. When they are in season, they exude power, inspiration and greatness before the petals dwindle and leave with the wind. 

I see the transient nature of the cherry blossoms as a metaphor for fleeting life. The cherry blossom bloom is short-lived, but it doesn’t diminish their overwhelming beauty or the impact they make while flourishing. 

The symbolism of the cherry blossom trees stuck with me and became an allegory of courage and a catalyst for personal change. For the first time, I recognized our lives are fragile, and time is not guaranteed. I knew I had to use the time I was given to make a positive impact. 

I began my first semester of college in August 2020 amidst political upheaval and the COVID-19  pandemic. I struggled to put down roots and felt a deep sense of hopelessness in my future. I couldn’t believe how much I had gotten wrong.

I knew Pace University’s New York City campus wasn’t the right fit for me; the thought of a lifelong career in health science, my chosen major, made me feel uneasy. I was drawn to writing but rejected it, fearing a lack of job opportunities. 

It certainly would’ve been easier to stick it out at the wrong college with the wrong major at the wrong time, but the memory of my grandmother’s journey to the U.S. and the cherry blossoms reminded me again of the importance of using what short time I have to make a difference for myself and others. 

I could have chosen to grin and bear it, unhappy and unwilling to make my mark. Instead, I was inspired by my grandmother and the cherry blossoms and took a gap year, transferred schools and changed my major to journalism. 

In many ways, I found myself through the elation and the misery that came along with such big changes. I finally allowed myself to lean into what my heart wanted, not what my brain wanted or what other people wanted for me. 

I believe now that my grandmother’s depiction of sakura reminded her of her home in Japan and also showed her the value of strength, courage and safety as she tried to navigate her way through life in a foreign culture. 

While our circumstances differ, the cherry blossoms provide me with the same qualities: they remind me that my future is full of possibilities and that I am capable of cultivating change. Life is fleeting, but I have the power to make each second worthwhile and to flourish, just as the sakura do.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.