Two years ago a very kind man who owns a florist shop in town gave me a poinsettia plant. In fact, every December he drops off a flat of them at our office. It's his generous way of celebrating the Christmas season.
Invariably, the plants start to wither and dry out from neglect. Office staff are busy and despite occasional watering, phone calls and distractions happen. Before long the vibrant greens and reds of these holiday plants start to wane and die off.
For some reason I resisted this sad narrative and decided that I was going to have a green thumb. Which is laughable because my wife is the gardener, not me. Still, I was resolved and earnestly went about watering my poinsettia and insured it had adequate sunlight.
Others offered advice. That I should put it in a closet periodically to fool it into blooming red leaves again. Others suggested certain plant food. But I just kept watering it and insuring decent sunlight. No more, no less.
This went on for about two years. The plant remained green and alive, but devoid any red leaves. It looked like a boring green plant, and some questioned why I still had it. For some strange reason, I kept the faith. I just didn't like the idea of letting it die.
Of late, this aversion to death manifests in other areas of my life. For instance, I used to loathe spiders. In fact, a brown recluse put me in the hospital for a few days when I was a kid. I regularly squashed spiders whenever I encountered them in the house. But in the last few years things have changed.
Now, I grab a tissue and carefully scoop spiders up. I take them out and plop them in my wife's garden to hopefully eat aphids and mosquitos. When people ask why I bother, I talk about Mars. "Imagine if we spent a billion dollars to send a space craft to Mars, and we found a spider crawling around? Champagne corks would be opening at NASA." Most of my friends think I'm nuts.
The thing is, all life is precious and remarkable. Even spiders are a beautifully designed system that enables them to defy gravity and spin webs. I guess with age I have developed a deeper appreciation for all life, much like those monks in Tibet.
I suppose this had something to do with my poinsettia effort. A colleague of mine was given a plant recently. And like the old me, he doesn't have a green thumb. He enjoyed the plant for a short time, but abandoned it each weekend. In short order, it started to dry up. A coworker took the dying plant and placed it outside, hoping the recent rains would revive it. But to no avail.
This last week I came into work and turned on my office lights. To my delight and surprise, there in the middle of my poinsettia plant was a beautiful red leaf. After two years of watering, sunning and personal encouragement, my little poinsettia plant rewarded me with a flash of crimson delight.
It was a small victory, to be sure. But the experience got me thinking about one of the loneliest of human qualities. Patience.
We all have busy lives and responsibilities. Today's cell phones, social media and technology only seem to amplify our engagement and commensurate exhaustion. Who has time for patience?
We want our restaurant food now! We want that green light now! We want to lose those five pounds now! Patience is a lonely thing. And yet, Rome wasn't built in a day. A Christmas poinsettia doesn't bloom red leaves immediately. It might take awhile. It might take two years.
And you know what? It was worth the wait.