The Day the Killing Stopped

I used to be a killer.

It’s hard for me to admit that. I never wanted to be a killer. But it just kept happening. Things kept dying in spite of my best efforts. And by things, I mean plants.

The first time it happened, the victim was a healthy aloe vera plant. It wasn’t sickly. It wasn’t circling the drain. I just happened to notice a few bugs in the soil, so I stuck the plant outside, hoping the critters would find a better place to call home.

Unfortunately, the temperature dipped below freezing that night. Such is life in the NC mountains (where I was in college at the time). The next morning I discovered the limp corpse of my aloe vera plant. Cause of death: freezing.

But that was a fluke, right? A blip. Not entirely my fault. Up until that point, the aloe vera plant had been totally alive. So okay, an accident. It happens.

I don’t fully remember the next plant, but I think it was a casualty of a long-distance move, too much time spent in a hot car. And it was followed by a long string of slowly dying plants.

I didn’t get it. I followed the instructions that came with the plants. I did exactly as they directed. Why were the plants always dying under my care? I’ve always loved nature. I was the kid who grew up outside, playing in the dirt and climbing trees. I felt at peace lying in the grass, staring up at the sky. Why was nature rebelling against me?

Then. One day. Something changed.

It was a gray fall day when my husband and I were wandering around the garden section at Lowe’s. A shelf full of small purple plants caught my eye. They weren’t in great shape, but I recognized them, vaguely recalling them gracing the yard of a childhood home. An employee saw me looking at the purple heart plants and called over to tell me they were fifty percent off.

My husband wandered over to me. “We can get one if you want.”

“I don’t know . . .” Images of previous victims flashed through my mind.

“Hey, at least it’s already half dead, so you won’t feel bad if you kill it.”

My husband’s confidence in me was overwhelming. We bought a plant.

I took home the tiny little sprout and separated out the dead portions, putting what was left in a new pot with fresh soil.

“Please don’t die,” I whispered as I gave it a good drink of water, promising it I’d do whatever I could to give it a fighting chance.

And something amazing happened. The plant lived. Not only did it live, it thrived, growing rapidly and producing so many tendrils, I’ve made half a dozen more plants from cuttings.

What happened? It wasn’t that this half-dead plant had a miraculous ability to live (although I’m nearly convinced it’s immortal). Something powerful changed in me: I stopped following the instructions.

Once I started doing my own research online, I realized how wrong the instructions that come with each plant actually were. One told me to give the plant a cup of water every week. But here’s what I later learned: the amount of water a plant needs depends on the temperature, the humidity of the air, and the water retention of the soil, just to name a few factors. So by following the directions with all the other plants, carefully doing exactly as they instructed, I was destroying my plants.

I’m happy to report that since the day I got the purple heart plant, I have managed to nurture not only that plant and all its descendants, but five other plants as well.

So if you want to know how to keep something alive, whether it’s a plant or a relationship, here’s my advice: throw away the instructions.

This is what a non-dead, very happy, sunlight-loving purple heart plant looks like.
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Word Nerd Wednesday: The Things She Sees

Happy Word Nerd Wednesday! This month’s story is about a fabulous woman named Maya.

Maya is a particularly skilled person. She has excellent attention to detail, often noticing tiny details other people overlook. Her work is always pristine, rarely an error anywhere, and she expresses her thoughts with meticulous precision. Her mastery of detail is so strong, a friend of hers once joked that Maya would notice an ant in a trench from fifty yards away.

“Trench ant” = trenchant (TREN-chunt), meaning perceptive or astute. It can also mean effective or articulate, and sometimes even forceful. It’s a multi-purpose word, really. It originates from a French word that means cutting. Maya, with her extraordinary attention to detail and precision, certainly fits one definition of trenchant. She’s perceptive, astute, and incisive. She isn’t easily distracted, cutting right down to the details that need attention.

It’s so easy sometimes to be distracted by the mess, to drown in the noise. And there’s always plenty of noise. The detail-oriented focus Maya has is far too rare, but it’s something to be admired when you see it. People like Maya contribute to this world in a whole host of ways, able to cut through all the chaos to the heart of the matter. It can be unnerving at times to be around someone with such perception, but it’s also an incredible gift.

If you have a Maya in your life, treasure them. Appreciate their unique abilities and the way they see the details of the world, right down to an ant in a trench.

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Word Nerd Wednesday: The Paths We Take

Happy Word Nerd Wednesday! It’s a lovely sunny day here in my home with excellent light, the perfect day to share a story about a first-time homebuyer.

Shawna has just bought her first home, and she’s thrilled to move in and make it her own. She paints the walls, finds furniture, and sets about accessorizing her space. As a lover of nature, she wants to include a range of potted plants to finish the look, so she starts with one plant first, planning to add more in the future.

Unfortunately, though, the plant doesn’t do so well. Whether it was already diseased or needed more sunlight or got improper care, who can tell? (This is a judgement-free zone. Sometimes plants die and it’s no one’s fault. No one’s fault, you hear me?) But whatever the cause, the poor plant slowly turns brown and dies. Definitely not the look Shawna was going for.

So she buys another plant, hoping this time will be different. But this one goes the same way. Perhaps being a plant-owner is simply not in her future. But she’s not willing to give up on the fresh look a plant brings to her space. Like any savvy home designer, she adapts and finds a solution: she substitutes her real but really dead plant with a beautiful, artificial one. No mess, no death, and still a lovely, fresh look.

To “substitute the plant” = supplant (suh-PLANT), meaning to take the place of, to replace. The dead plant is supplanted by an artificial one when Shawna recognizes plant death is becoming a pattern.

Sometimes life does that, thwarts your carefully constructed plans, and so you swerve and create new plans to supplant the old ones. In our story, Shawna embraces that art of adaptation by refusing to compromise the vision of her home as one accessorized with plants; she simply finds another way to accomplish that.

She could keep buying plants and watching them die, hoping one will finally survive, but she doesn’t. Instead, she acknowledges her reality and releases her ideas of how she expected things to be, stepping off the path she thought would lead to her goal. And when she does that, she finds a different way to achieve her vision.

Things don’t always work out how we want them to. So we supplant our plans, our methods, but not our dreams. We can follow Shawna’s example and find a different path, but we don’t have to change our destination.

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