Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Confessions of a Plant-killer: Part Three (Getting Personal)

If I assert that I am born neither with green fingers nor a black thumb, why might it be that I have chosen to be someone who does not keep plants alive? This is indeed a very troubling question, as I truly don’t wish to be a killer of anything or anyone, and have in fact made many an effort not to be one! I don’t pretend to have the definitive answer to this question – just ponderings that make some sense to me – but I notice something as I rinse the broccoli sprouts morning and evening, and ‘harvest’ some of them to the fridge today; as I take the time every rainless evening, whatever my other pressing plans and commitments, to water the tomato plants thanks to two extra lengths of hose that I finally got around to purchasing last week; and as I keep an eye on the sourdough starter, choosing when to feed it and when to bake with it. What I cannot help but notice is that these actions, which I have found so difficult to maintain in the past, are incredibly small, simple gestures. They take hardly any time, are remarkably uninvolved, and require no labour-intensive procedures. But, for all their simplicity, they demand to be done regularly and with straightforward precision. Perhaps, then, to tend living things, and keep them alive, is to choose a discipline of love supported by routines of care.

This week I came across an interesting discussion of the traditional ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ and the way in which Jesus’ ‘Beatitudes’ confront each of these (it seems that this discussion originally appeared in Back to Virtue by Peter Kreeft). The idea that caught my eye was that Sloth (which I have known since working with the Enneagram to be my habitual trap or ‘sin of choice’!) can be defined as a ‘refusal to exert the will towards the good’. Ouch! That’s me in more area than one! For so many years I have excused my serial plant-killing with the avowal that “I didn’t mean to!”, and it’s true that I didn’t try to murder the poor things! But I think I am finally ready to see that my choice not to water or feed or tend still reflects some level of refusal to exert my will towards good and towards life. In other words, it’s not just what I do that matters and that defines me, it is also what I don’t do. Or, expressed in the positive, the little things I do really are significant – for my plants, but also for my relationships and for myself. It is not enough to ‘not kill’ (…or abandon or disparage) these things and these people; love demands that I cast off my tendency towards ease and consequent neglect, and instead exert my will towards the good, by intentionally choosing habitual actions that nurture and bring life.

As I write this, I have one more new thought. This past year I have been coming to know and experience that the Great Love that fuels the universe is not passively benevolent but rather actively loving. There is no sloth in God. Perhaps, then, as I am changed by this Great Love, I will more closely resemble it myself. And hopefully that will mean, among other things, no more dead plants…


  1. For a positive, feel-good perspective (hah) ... how about all the things you aren't slothful about? At least plant tending isn't like neglect of a spouse or child. I think the trick is getting plants that largely take care of themselves - like the perennials that pop up at our place every year. Perhaps some people really do have the green thumb gifting. I've never applied myself very much in this area, but don't seem to be a natural that's for sure.

    Absent-mindedness with plants hopefully doesn't count for a refusal of exerting one's will to the good (gulp - think I have enough other areas to wrestle with there). I wouldn't feel bad about it, unless you want to :)

  2. I can relate to not doing the little things. How many times have I not done the little jobs which then added one on one end up being a massive job. Take the rolls of wrapping paper at the end of my bed. The present was wrapped in haste before a party... I could have been 30 seconds later for the party and put them away. I could have put them away any day since... but no, they sit there taunting me, reminding me that I leave the little things... and they are gathering other little things to them... a sleeping bag, some clothes and so the massive job is being created by my inactivity. Blesings :)

  3. I hear ya, SSU Phil (is that Jer?!)! I know much more goes into my absent-mindedness than a 'refusal', and part of it is a choice to value other aspects and tasks of my life more highly. BUT, for me, this choice regarding exerting my will is an important one on many levels, and it's just that it somehow becomes more evident with my plants. :-) I mean, why have plants if I KNOW I'm going to choose not to water them?! Do I want living things around me or not? If I do, can I do the small things that need to be done to tend them? Maybe this includes choosing low-maintenance plants, as you say, buying a long enough hose, using a sourdough recipe that doesn't need feeding everyday or kneading... These sort of practical choices have definitely come into play in my recent, more successful attempts to keep things alive as well, but even this feels to me like a choice to exert my will towards the good in an area I want to grow in, you know? So... I'm not feeling bad in any 'out of proportion' or 'beat yourself up' way, but in a 'this helps me make better choices' sort of way!!

    Katie, so nice to see and hear from you on here - thanks! :-) We have similar rolls of paper behind a chair where they were stashed recently!! Maybe both of us will clear them away today?! I know in my head that these little things both take little time and show big love, to myself and my family, by the atmosphere they create - oh, for the lesson to sink a little 'lower'! Blessings back to you and yours...