Plants as a metaphor for change


David Bowie wrote a song about it. Barnes and Noble have numerous books on the subject. And, Netflix has at least thirty movies that promise to do so after you watch them. What do musicians, booksellers and electricity services have in common? To change. I’ve heard him say it takes twenty-one days to change a habit – maybe, maybe not. Change, in itself, is a reality and there are many ways to deal with change.

How do we see changes in our own lives? Sometimes the change can be so small that it seems like nothing is happening. Think about it – losing weight or quitting smoking. It can feel like taking 5 steps forward and 10 steps back. Other times change can be brutal and rapid. Think – an unexpected death, illness or a visitor from someone’s past. Maybe one of those situations resonated with you and created changes in your life. Many of us know how to measure changes in life: pounds lost on the scales, number of days without smoking, how many days of exercise, etc.

But what about the change that is constantly happening around us? How can we see it and how can we use it? In January 2011, I started aggressive chemotherapy and was denied what the drugs would do to me. I knew I was going to lose my hair and although I read about all the other side effects, I thought, “No, I’m in good shape, it’s not going to happen to me.” I was wrong.

About a month after starting treatment, I received the plant in a nine-inch pot from a friend from Minnesota. He was in his eighties and cared for his wife who had Parkinson’s disease. The seedling contained four different species of plants; it was green and perfect for my little apartment. I put the plant on a table by the window and watered it every Sunday. As I continued treatment, the plant thrived and eventually bloomed. I, on the other hand, failed. Of course, all the hair fell out, then the neuropathy started, followed by tinnitus, loss of taste and extreme fatigue.

The plant has become my metaphor for change. The sicker I got, the more I developed. It was sublime for me to see the beauty in such a small tank. As the years went by I noticed that the plant was struggling. I tried different locations in the apartment, more water, less water, more sun, less sun, but nothing seemed to work. It was still alive, but with little growth. Several years have passed without even flowering. At the same time, I was changing. My hair grew and like a plant I struggled to stay above the dirt. When I moved to a new apartment, I moved the plant thinking it needed more root space. It remained alive, but still did not bloom and did not sustain growth for long.

Four years after receiving the plant, I moved into the house and put it in the front window. She finally found her happy place. Today, six years after receiving the plant, it sits in a twelve-inch pot, still in the front window. It is twenty-four inches high and extends in a circle of fifty-five inches. The plant blooms at least once a month. The man who sent it to me lost his wife and about a year ago I lost him. The last time I saw him I shared a story about a five year old plant, but I think he barely remembered he sent it.

A plant that served me as a constant reminder that change is always ahead of us. The plant did well, then fought, then did well, then fought and now blooms. The plant served as a constant reminder to me that change is always ahead of us and that as humans we can bloom for days (weeks, months, and even years) and others struggle.

Sometimes I just stand next to the plant and look out the window. As it stands high, so I stand high. I am delighted with its beauty and persistence despite being rumored against it. This fall I looked out the window and saw a tree in the front yard covered with the most spectacular orange leaves I had ever seen and I almost cried. It was just from a postcard in Vermont and I live in North Carolina. It’s February now and there are no leaves, just empty branches. Like a plant, a tree changes. I remind you that they will have new sheets soon. The tree, like my plant, is another illustration of how change is before us, if we just take the time to notice it.

The plant has become my metaphor for change. What will be your metaphor? What can motivate you around you to create, face, accept, and accept change?