Her balcony is filled with beautiful plants and flowers and even a small tree in a terra cotta base. She’s about my age — 40s — and seems peaceful and purposeful as she moves with her watering pitcher from plant to plant, disappearing inside occasionally and reemerging with a full pitcher through the sliding glass door.
I think I am living vicariously through this woman — just a little — because I like the idea of lots of plants, but I’ve learned I don’t want them.
In my old home, from which I moved last year (and wrote about here), I had a room devoted solely to plants.
Many of them were my mother’s plants, lovingly tended for years and years, which I inherited when she moved to the East Coast in 2005. And in 2014, when my sister moved to Michigan, I took her plants as well, several cacti and some succulents known as “chickens and hens”.
The plant room got to be very full, and although I had liked the idea of all these plants when I moved into the house, over time I came to realize that I am simply not a plant person. I am an animal person, and I adore taking care of pets, but plants exhaust me.
A little orange tree that had thrived under my mother’s care for more than thirty years eventually withered under mine. Most of my sister’s plants died after she gave them to me.
A friend of mine saw the metaphor in all this and pointed out to me that I’d been taking care of plants all these years that did not truly belong to me.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like the plants, but I admit I cared for them resentfully. I didn’t really want all these plants but had taken them on because I felt like if I didn’t, they’d end up on the trash heap.
My friend said, “Of course you don’t want them — they’re other people’s cast-offs. You never did want them; you just couldn’t say no.” (I make it sound like she was brutally blunt, but she is actually very kind when she says things like this.)
My friend had a point. It was my mother, not me, who desired a large house filled with plants. And my sister’s plants had been given to her mostly by my mother. And why was I caring for the parts of people’s lives that they’d left behind, when they were no longer willing to do it?
Today, the plant room of my old house a thing of the past, I stare out my window at this woman tending her plants and wonder: what if I actually do want a balcony full of plants? What if I actually want a life like this woman’s? (I have no idea what kind of life this woman has — only that, when the weather turns warm, she turns her attention to her plants). Shouldn’t I have what she has?
In truth, I can say for sure — yes, for sure — that I do not want to care for a balcony full of plants.
At least once a week — more than ten months after my move — I feel relief and peace in the fact that I no longer care for those plants.
But I notice — in myself, in the clients I work with, in the communities of which I am part — that we so often look out at others and make assumptions about their lives, and believe we should have what they have, do what they do, be what we perceive them to be.
I’ve noticed myself assuming that the woman across the way must be “successful” in life because she has all these beautiful plants and is able to help them thrive. She’s willing to put in that time and energy and devotion to plants, and I am not. That must mean something good about her, and something bad about me, right?
The fact that I actually do not enjoy caring for plants does not register to my critical mind when it’s comparing my insides to other people’s outsides.
And maybe, just maybe, this woman actually truly wanted all these plants and picked each one out with care, herself. Maybe they were not an inheritance she never wanted to begin with.
Two things bubble to the surface for me as I write this:
1) In the future, starting now, I will remember to say no more to things I really do not want. I will remember that my “no” does not necessarily relegate innocent plants to the trash heap — in fact, my “no” may create currently unseen possibilities, for plants AND people.
2) When I’m comparing myself to “surely-more-successful-than-me” others, I will remember that I have good reasons for my choices, and that making choices based on who I really am and what I truly want is one of my definitions of success. So while a balcony full of thriving plants may equal success for my neighbor, it doesn’t for me — even though I can deeply appreciate the view it creates.
What do you notice about the difference between who you truly are and who you (sometimes) think you should be? How do you connect with what you truly want, as opposed to what you think you should have? I’d love to hear from you.
Do you need support in making your creative work a priority, in a way that works for YOU (not the way you think you should do it)? I’d love to help. Find out if we might be a fit, here.