Andrew Eldredge explores the time it takes to heal and move on.
I’ve turned over a new leaf.
To be more specific my new plant has grown a new leaf.
OK, to be the most specific, my new plant’s new leaf is growing a new leaf!
Perhaps this seems a casual miracle to the reader. For me this is the miracle. The causes and conditions of nature’s blade extending itself into new life stretch far beyond sunlight and soil. They stretch back behind my own rooted reach toward the light.
My father owned plants. When he was terminally ill and immobilized I remember lying on the floor by his bed and staring up into his ficus tree. Amidst the silence and uncertain sadness in the room the plant was so defiantly alive. I would brush the deep green leaves above me and hold the bark as we talked. I asked my father questions about his life. I listened so hard, as if somewhere hidden within his story laid the code with which I could navigate my own life. I would repeat what he said back to him just to be sure I had it right. I knew the clock was ticking and soon time would be up.
Once, out on a limb, I shared that I wanted to be an actor, a stand-up comedian more specifically. It was a dream since childhood and I’d kept it a secret. His response was “I wouldn’t do that. You’ll have to prostitute yourself.” I felt the bark on my hand, the carpet on my neck and I stared into the leaves.
When he passed away I was young, too mobile and rootless to inherit his glorious potted peers. I went on my own broken-hearted way. With every passing day my hand fell farther and farther from the bark of his ficus tree. My fingers grew trained to pragmatic tasks like keyboards or hammers. I was afraid. I didn’t want to prostitute myself. Grief is an unpredictable beast and it kisses each person differently. I spent my time trying to remember his stories and with them find my code.
Over the course of nearly nine years I remained without pet or plant. I went to dark places and light places but in both cases I was looking for a way through grief and the inescapable feeling that I had missed the final sentence of an instructional video titled “What You Should Do with Your Life and How to Live It.” I was sure it existed. That sentence, that final neat sentence, the answer to my life’s question, existed outside of myself in a body that was burned and scattered into the sea.
Fast-forward now through nearly a decade of pain, hardships, elation, risk-taking, growth and ruthless honesty. To my own surprise I wanted a plant. I was ready.
When I drove it home I was ecstatic. My heart was ablaze. I set it down, breathed in slowly and took a nice long look. Then terror engrossed me. Within seconds I was sure that I would inevitably, unquestioningly, absolutely kill this plant. Probably before the night was up. Definitely before the night was up. My last relationship with a plant didn’t end well. Dreams were denied and a best friend was lost. What would be different now?
I sought out advice. Someone told me to set it down and ignore it. “They need to be treated badly,” they said with certainty. Someone else suggested classical music and a third the bathroom as an ideal home. I searched the Internet. It brought up things like temperature, watering frequency and sunlight levels. Instructional videos were plentiful but something was off. I was ready to trust myself. I knew what mattered most.
I stretched out on the floor next to my plant and slowly brushed the leaves above me holding the bark in my hand. I had arrived. I was on the other side of grief. As I sat with watery eyes in the silence of myself, relieved and tender, the tree suddenly looked familiar. I realized that this was the exact type of tree that was in my father’s room all those years ago- a ficus. Nine years is a long time for a “no” to become a “yes.”
It’s been nearly a year now and the tree is still alive. In fact, its new leaf has grown a new leaf.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention: I’ve written and performed my first stand-up routine. It was about my new plant.
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