I always had a green thumb. More importantly, though, perhaps – I felt actual love for the plants I was raising. I was beyond excited when they sprouted, and delighted to watch them grow and strengthen. Raising them up felt like more than a hobby; rather, once I was aware that the plant existed, I felt I had been charged with seeing it succeed, a responsibility I took very seriously. I researched each plant’s needs, scrutinized it, even talked to it (or at least thought things at it), when I visited it for a watering.
In my thirties I could finally afford to rent a slice of real estate in New York with a large South-facing (sunny) window that didn’t directly overlook another brick wall. My little potted plants showed their approval by producing lots of new shoots, and I – encouraged by their happiness – acquired so many more plants while living there that I had to come up with arrangements to keep all of them thriving.
And then one day, it happened. My gardenia was showing signs of distress, with yellowing leaves, and dropping foliage. Soon my bonsai, and then the fig tree were showing the same signs, and before long, all my pretty plants were sick. They had a blight. I researched what I could and took action repeatedly, but finally had to abandon some of the pots outside, heartbroken, while I tried to save the others.
In the years since my husband died, I have come to observe my own survival in their little sagas. I have seen how a single event like a hungry whitefly can completely wipe out a plant after I’ve spent decades of care on it. Tiny enough to approach unobserved, it colonizes and not only can kill by its own destructive habits, but it also can cause disease. Or a simple thing like buying the wrong soil can cause a fungus to overtake your prized roses. Plants are vulnerable to many sordid problems. It makes me think how similar these little green lives are to humans’, as well.
I observe their stalks competing and clamoring, I see how a little warmth makes them stretch out with joy, leaning their faces into the sun. I see how effortlessly they can thrive when they have everything they need, and I swear, I can feel them radiate when they are feeling good. They almost emit their own frequency, like a little song.
I’m not the first to observe this humanization. The jade plant, which can grow to be thick and ancient looking, puts down “child” plants by resting its leaves on the soil – leaves which then put down roots of their own. The terms someone gave to the plant give me clues that others have felt as I do about plants – that, in many ways, they are similar to us humans. I have in my window right now a thriving jade plant which grew from a single leaf on my beloved maternal grandmother’s plant, taken when she died. In this way, I feel as though I am carrying on some of her love and care and nurturing in this world. And the orange tree whose tiny buds are thrilling me these days harkens back childhood memories of visits to my paternal grandmother’s house, where I would marvel at the exoticism of her own orange tree, glowing mystically in the brilliantly lit window in her otherwise dark house.
Let’s go back for a moment, though, to those abandoned pots that I left out for dead, in the New York winter. They were my gardenias, and nothing was left of them but twigs sticking out of the soil. With no leaves remaining for them to make photosynthesis, especially on such a delicate plant as the picky gardenia, I knew I couldn’t help them anymore, and I would have to accept their death. Simply disgusted with bad luck, I didn’t want to even think about them, and so I put them out of my sight. The only reason I didn’t pitch them altogether was in order to keep the pots.
Winter passed, and spring returned, and after that the summer grew very hot and wet, and suddenly one day I noticed that my little dead plants were covered with teeny tiny leaves! By the end of the summer, both plants had made such dramatic comebacks, completely filling the air with the intoxicating smell of their elegant blossoms. It was almost as though the dormancy had made them more resilient.
Besides being really obviously thrilled to welcome them back to life, again I saw the story of my own life reflected in them: Life delivers a devastating blow and we are cut back to something not even resembling our former selves. And why shouldn’t we die then? Why shouldn’t all of the misfortune take us completely? I can certainly tell you that, many times, I wished that death would come for me too, when my husband died. I wished and I even waited for death to finish the job. And then, when conditions finally changed – I never saw the sun coming, my head was hanging low, yet nevertheless I bloomed like never before, and life returned in a new way. And I’m bigger and stronger, and unashamed of the imperfect beauty that is my spirit, as it is like any survivor’s spirit. We survivors are magnificent, and we are here now to fill the earth with the intoxicating beauty of a phenomenon I refer to as the survivor’s bloom. Because it makes the world a better place. We share our compassion and our unique understanding of brokenness with the world, and by loving it, we heal it. We lead by example without even realizing whom we inspire as we go; those who see us and say, “she’s doing it. I can do that, too. I can pull that courage from the bottom of my soul and fulfill my quest.” One day, your dream of an abundant life will not only become your reality, but it will help create that reality for someone else. One day, the door you make to your dream will become big enough for others to walk through. And we will bloom this world back to health. And the best part is that you are perfect for the job, just as you are.
And so, even in mid-winter, I tend my dormant garden with such love and care and patience, knowing that each different stalk is resting and regrouping now, until the time comes once more for it to fulfill its destiny of blooming. And that time is coming. It is coming.
When it is your time, please join me in blooming on this earth, because the world truly needs it. This hurting world needs your story, and the blessing of your truth over its sorted suffering, like beatitudes for all of our trials. We’re all counting on you.