Bread and Orchids
I have a black thumb. In fact, I have two of them. My freshman year of college, I watched a cactus wither away and die due to my neglect and subsequently gave up on plants. Shortly after returning to Belfast, however, a friend gave me an orchid as a house warming present. Knowing my dangerous apathy towards flora, she gave me very specific watering instructions and then added, “Don’t worry if you kill it, everything dies in the end anyway.” Assured with the knowledge that this poor plant’s death wouldn’t be my fault but was instead its destiny, I diligently cared for those shockingly violet flowers until I went on vacation. When I returned, the flowers had crumpled into a sad mauve rendition of their once vibrant plumage and I decided to let nature take its course and let the little flowers disappear into the dust from which they had come.
There are many things that I hold dear. Friends, family, good wine, well-spiced food, the hope of decent political candidates, the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast, strong coffee, and jazz to name a few. Plants that need tending do not rank on even the longest version of this list. This past week, however, I have found myself spending an hour a day watering flowers. My fiance Gareth and I are house-sitting for his parents with our one responsibility being to make sure the plants don’t die. Neither of his parents really believe we are up to the task. Being stubborn as hell, I’m trying to prove them wrong. Each day I am there, I find a new little plant hiding in some previously unexplored corner of the house that has absolutely no need for greenery, taunting me with the fact that its life is in my not-so-capable or caring hands.
Gareth’s parents love those plants. I feel that each day that I wrestle with the hose to reach a far away seedling and wrestle with my conscience to not just walk away from the watering can and go to the beach. It has become a meditative task. I think of his parents while I am doing their chores and think about the things that they hold dear and what they struggle to keep alive. I think of the flimsy foundations on which we build our faith and the fault lines on which we erect the altars to worship whatever it is that we hold to be of value. The wind at their house can get so strong that they sometimes struggle to get out the door and into the car in the morning. And yet they plant daisies in the yard.
Loving something, loving anything is the bread that sustains us, it is the act that makes us human. I doubt that I will ever have a neatly trimmed lawn or take to tending roses. Tonight, however, a friend gave me a bouquet of lilies and before I went to bed, I mixed its food and gave it water and cut off the edges of the stems and even remembered to put it in the vase afterwards. Understanding what other people love doesn’t mean that we have to change who we are in order to share in their passions but it might change us all the same, it might even enhance our own humanity. At the very least, in my case, it’s let a few more flowers live to see another day. And that’s a small good thing.