Life Lessons Taught by a Houseplant: A Year of Compassion
Caring for other living things can teach us how to care for ourselves.
My 31st birthday passed without much hoopla this year.
I don’t know how you feel about birthdays, but I love them. I love celebrating other people’s birthdays, and I love having big birthdays for myself. I always want a big to-do.
Birthdays are special — they’re all about you. Maybe it’s because I’m a middle child, but it feels good to be recognized and loved just because you’re alive. Birthdays mean attention from friends and family, and gifts — one of my love languages!
Last year I wanted a BIG celebration for my 30th. 30 felt like a big deal. When COVID resurged, I had to opt for a small party with our core little cohort. It was lovely, but I was still a little sad.
At the party, my friend gave me a little bitty fiddle leaf fig. You can see it in the background of this photo.
I’ve never had a houseplant that’s lived more than a few months — somehow I kill them all. (Don’t hate me, I know Millenials are all about their houseplants.)
This one was a real stinker. She got ants (somehow?) and root rot (ok that’s my fault) and lost two of her five leaves. One more broke off on a traumatic windy day when I took her to my office to live.
Honestly, I cursed her for being so difficult. I expected her to die and me to feel guilty for killing her, as all my other plants had gone. I’d have to add another failure to the books and I wasn’t thrilled.
My friend encouraged me to sing to the tree (which I didn’t do), but I did start saying things like, “I hope you live.” Which then turned into, “I want you to live,” and then “You will live, and I will take care of you.”
She stayed a two-leaf twig for a long time. Like really long.
And then one day, a little bud appeared. Shortly after that, another fresh leaf unfurled.
Those little buds are so delicate and precious, it’s hard not to feel pure delight watching them spread. I started to get the whole “I love houseplants” thing.
Over the year, she lost all her original leaves. But after a year of tender care and patience, another bud appeared on my birthday. Her fifth new leaf. Full circle, and a tree with completely new growth.
It’s hard not to feel like she’s my soul sister now. My year had its share of extreme left turns, plot twists, and hardships.
I can’t say I’ve recovered as quickly as this tree has, but I watch her in wonder and I’m inspired that I can keep regenerating too. See, growth is natural. We don’t have to force it. If we get what we need — stability, love, rest, compassion — we’ll grow too.
That’s the lesson of the tree. I’ve started saying nice things to myself too, things like, “I’m not judging you. I’m in this with you. I will take care of you.” That may sound crazy to you, but as I stop cursing myself for all my issues and instead give myself tender care, I see tiny buds of my own life unfurling before me.
So I was happy this year to have a small birthday. Somehow, all the gentle love and recognition I’ve been allowing myself to receive has let me know it’s ok for things to be small. No one is going to forget me. I don’t need recognition to feel special or safe. Things will unfurl the way they do, and I can let that be enough.