If you give me something green…

Fifteen years ago, a colleague gave me a rare African Violet. It wasn’t just ANY violet, either. It was an antique violet propagated from one of her plants. It had been handed down to her from her grandmother, who’d received a cutting from her mother. So, this particular plant is at least four generations old.

So what, you may ask. That’s hardly national news. You’d be right. It’s not. Yet, that one plant means so many deeper things.

My colleague, and friend, trusted me with a living thing that brought her joyful memories and the satisfaction that comes with helping something, or someone, thrive. That is her nature. I took that gift very seriously.

Since that day, fifteen years ago, I’ve not only taken great care with that plant, I’ve propagated many more from its leaves.

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Antique African Violets, the mother plant now more than four generations old.

Others have shared their plants with me or given me plants as gifts. They too thrive in my garden. I research and apply their species’ needs, giving them the best chance at survival. I check them daily.

Why, you ask? Why is this so important? Because in an era where the world is focused on polarization, personal attacks, identity politics, and myriad other negative pursuits, I am choosing to focus on the loving act of sharing life between friends.

A cartwheel cactus I received as a cutting after a heavy pruning has now doubled in size; a philodendron cut from the same friend’s plant now cascades over the pot. Sunflowers grow wild: gifts from the birds. Ginger and orchids, given to me by a client who could not bear for them to be neglected after she moved from her home of twenty years, are now flourishing, constantly reminding me of her. I know each plant well, and I remember where it came from each time I tend to it. These are connections that I treasure.

Propagating a plant takes weeks, sometimes months of attention and care. When I give away a plant I’ve grown, it is not a frivolous thing. I am giving my time, my nurturing. I am telling you that you mean enough to me to entrust you with a thing that will bring you peace as you care for it; a peace I long for you to have. Many times, I take the time to prepare the vessel in which I give you this gift. I paint or decorate it in a way that I hope suits your tastes or communicates a message. On rare occasions, when I can afford it, I find an artist whose work is perfect for the plant and I invest in that vessel. To me, giving or receiving a plant is a very intimate thing indeed.

So, next time someone hands you a plant from their garden, understand that it’s not just a plant. It’s a living, breathing thing that may bring color to your life, or clean the air in your house, or give you food for your table. It is always more than just a plant.

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African Violets, some as old as twenty years. 

Plants

Year of a Hundred Things – Thing #73 – “Need”

I saw a meme on Facebook today – a lot of my posts seem to be born of that lately – that said “Any women wanting a husband obviously hasn’t had one before.” There are just so many things wrong with that that I felt compelled to really analyze it through the sieve of my personal history, and the experiences of my friends and family.

A couple of years ago, I sat in Central Park and had a conversation with a friend about why we thought political debates were essentially useless, especially within the confines of social media. We agreed readily that the problem was psychology. When one considers a problem, and its solution, one has to first understand the psychology of the affected individuals. One has to understand their “need.” The same logic has to be applied to relationships, and most especially to marriages.

Even the best marriages require work. Both people have to show up every day, and for extended periods, have to put their own need aside. Balance is what makes that process work. Recognition is what gives balance. “Today, I recognize that your need is stronger than mine, so I will show up for you.” Seems rather simple, doesn’t it?

In my analysis, I categorized both the failed and the successful relationships. Over and over, I found that need was the strongest theme and in those that failed, need had become a monstrous, all-consuming organism that stood in the middle of the relationship. It seems obvious to me, and maybe to you, my reader, that a balance of needs is the answer to this conundrum. I thought so, too. 

But it starts long before need becomes a problem that has gone unsatisfied. We humans don’t seem to realize that relationships have seasons, and some relationships can only last for a single season because it was a product of a single need. This is why, I believe, many marriages fail after the children have left the nest. I’ve heard people say “we’ve grown apart” when what actually happened was that while raising their children, they were not fulfilling their individual needs. They let the season pass. 

However, even before that, we fail to recognize the need that fanned the fire of that relationship. I’ve seen many a teenage girl tolerate deplorable behavior from a boy because for the first time in her life, she felt seen and heard. The need is to feel attractive and desired, and biologically, boys are happy to accommodate. I’ve also seen teenage boys tolerate the most entitled, spoiled girls for exactly the same reasons. The needs in those relationships overwhelm the individual’s own power. Those relationships are doomed long before the “I do”s. 

I have determined to teach every young person I love (and maybe those reading this), that successful relationships – and this applies to friendships, too – are based on the individuals’ abilities to recognize their own needs first. It is vital, as well, that we recognize which needs are unreasonable and invest the time in healing those first. THEN we can determine who is the best possible mate for us. It’s cliche to say that two half people can’t sustain a relationship, but it’s true. 

It is not the husband that is the problem. It is picking the wrong husband (or wife, or partner) because he or she fulfills a current need instead of creating a balance of all of them. Figuring this out for oneself requires some profoundly emotional heavy-lifting and some people just don’t want to invest the time. Those people won’t make good mates. People who cannot at least recognize their own needs will never be able to create balance in a relationship. 

So, before you go criticizing the institution of marriage – or simply relationships – look inside yourself and determine if the fault lies in your ability to choose at the time. It took me a long time to discern that I what I was looking for in my previous relationships was far from what I actually needed. I let them proceed past their seasons. It even took me a while to determine what makes the current one work. Keeping my hands on the wheel is now much easier having drawn a map of seas. 

The bottom line is, we have to figure ourselves out first. Then we have to really communicate our needs AND lastly, when those needs are not being met, be honest about whether it is fair to require THAT person in front of you to continue to try. Outside of abuse, we have to ask ourselves; Did you pick the wrong person? Is that person really capable of meeting YOUR individual needs? Is that his or her fault? Does it make him or her a “bad” mate simply because he or she is a bad mate for YOU? Yes, it’s a lot of soul-searching, but in the end, when you wake up every day relatively happy (because there are always bumps), it’s entirely worth the effort.