Tuesday, October 25, 2011


This Spring, my sister-in-law asked for my help in nursing her Bromeliad (Guzmania) back to life.  I'm never sure I can help,but secretly I love these opportunities to see if I can get to know the plant well enough to have a positive effect.  Best, I get to do research and discuss the plants with experts at work.

This particular plant came to me around April.  The plant's bloom and most of its leaves had turned brown.  Other than that it didn't show any signs of mistreatment.  A Horticulturalist at work had a grim outlook for the plant, saying that I should probably just 'get over it and throw it out.'  But then in what sounded like an after thought, almost like a secret kept for the very brave, he said skeptically, "unless you are willing to be patient...it might turn around...but tropical plants take a long time to heal." My ears perked up at this possibility.

After that, he asked me questions about the way I was watering it, and as time passed and I wasn't seeing improvement he kept encouraging me to move it to deeper and deeper shade. The plant finally seemed happiest underneath the towering Cryptomeria Trees in the backyard.  There it got an early slice of filtered sunshine through the skirt of the tree's lower branches. It was fully shaded the rest of the day.  After I moved it to that spot, I hardly looked at it.  I only checked on watering it when it got really hot.  It stopped turning more brown but it was difficult to tell if it was really alive or just stagnant. I mostly forgot about the plant, and I also forgot that under the soil, is a factory of life producing proportions. Late this summer I looked and I saw new growth!!!  A small plant was growing next to the large tired one.  And so for this Guzmania, the following turned out to be true:
-you have to let troubled plants be in an environment that they love for a long time.
-They seem to go through a dark period of paralysis and then need to be able to overcome this.
-You have to let yourself forget about them and check on them very infrequently, without hovering or over-watering before you'll see any positive change.
(Thank goodness I have other plants and projects to distract me from waiting for the plant to flourish again.)

It's the same with boiling water, and I think it might be the same with some humans.  It's hard to see healing improvement in yourself or others when you check every minute to see the progress. 

I was sure that the Bromeliad was dead.  I had already imagined throwing it away.  But just like your check engine light comes on before your car dies, your plants show signs of stress to warn you before they really bite the dust.  Warning signs are a marquee of all living things, it's just a matter of taking notice and making a change before things progress beyond repair. I tend to accept damage to plants and to people and assume that once damaged, there is no real healing, just acceptance.  Life is teaching me that I tend to be wrong when it comes to the human ability to renew. It's difficult to believe in change or recovery when you can't see it, when it's in a measure of time to which we can't relate (like a light year...). But maybe some of us are like the Bromeliad, if we live through the paralysis of trauma, if we are willing to give ourselves a break, if we leave ourselves time to create a symbiotic relationship with our environment, if we don't hover, if we persevere through the helpless waiting, if we don't expect instant results, if we focus on all the other things about living, then maybe, just maybe we'll see some healing, we'll see some growth in ourselves and in others.

As long as we are alive, we are growing, even when we can't see it. Before you give up, listen for the quiet after thought, whispered to you, almost like a secret for the very brave : "Unless you are willing to be very patient..."

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