In the hierarchy of plant > fish > puppy > baby, I definitely have better success in reverse order. A baby is very insistent about their needs, and eventually becomes a Small Person who can communicate in my language. A puppy will at least let me know if he wants food or water, whine at the door to go out, and mope around if he isn't feeling well. A fish moves, catching my eye and reminding me to sprinkle in some food and change the water occasionally.
But a plant. My most recent attempt, an air plant, died. I killed an air plant. They need practically nothing and somehow I did it wrong. At first my current ill fortune with houseplants confused me. When I was five, I pried three clumps of black Texas clay from our yard, laid a handful of pinto beans under them, and there arose a magnificent bean plant. When I was seven, I insisted on planting a broken forsythia twig along with the bushes my parents were planting - and lo and behold, it grew into its own bush, equaling the others in size. Even as a teenager I took a miniature rose that had all but died in someone else's care and resurrected it.
The common element finally struck me: I do best with something that needs me. A healthy plant is an enigma - how do I keep it healthy? A withered one, less so, especially if I have an idea as to how it got that way. A successful healthy plant is... a healthy plant. The only change to mark progress by is growth, and that can be slow. But a successful dying plant is a plant that comes alive.
Sometimes I feel like I treat my spiritual health the same way I treat a plant; when I'm doing well, it's almost as though I don't notice and so end up inadvertently sabotaging my own growth. But when I'm struggling, I recognize the struggle as distress signal and set about taking corrective action. It's a jerky existence, a tree with uneven rings marking alternate years of flood and drought. I'd like to find the balance - the best way to thrive in my present climate and season, flourishing and becoming wholly alive.
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