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.

dear Bridget: the respect

Dear Bridget,

At this point in your life, you’ve no doubt heard a lot of lectures about authority. About how you should respect authority figures. And you’ve got a lot of those–teachers, parents, friends’ parents, etc. But as you get older, those authority figures will become fewer and fewer.

Don’t get me wrong, there will be plenty of people who will attempt to be authorities. But here’s a secret: once you’re an adult, you get to have more control over who’s an authority in your life.

In general, people will be an authority for one of two reasons. One, their position requires it (boss, law enforcement officials, etc.). And two, you give it to them (friends, mentors, and once you’re an adult, your parents).

But others will try to insert themselves into your life as an authority. (Just in case you were wondering… my letters are not an attempt to be an authority. I just want to be a helpful big sister who provides an inside look at life as an adult, along with a little encouragement. Consider me your confidential informant.)

People will always have opinions on your choices, Bridget. And some of them will state their opinions loudly, trying to set themselves up as people who have the right to admonish you for your decisions.

But they only have the authority you give them. Strong opinions and a loud voice do not an authority make, regardless of the credentials they claim.

As you become an adult, you’ll have more and more power over who you respect as an authority. Which is both easier and harder. Because the people you choose to respect will have a major influence on you. The people you choose to respect will reveal a lot about who you are and who you want to be.

Look for people you want to be like. Look for people who respect others the way you respect them. Look for those who actively invest in your life, instead of simply swooping in to voice an opinion.

Those are the people who will enrich your life, who will serve as lighthouses to guide you around the rocks.

The others are simply seagulls, squawking as they fly by and drop crap on you. (You’re welcome for that visual.) The seagulls can be loud, and they’re flying high, so it seems like they’ve got it together. But they’re just passing through, making noise on their way.

Look for the lighthouses, Bridget. They’re the people who have your best interests at heart. Make them authorities. Offer them your respect. Let the rest fly on by.

Love,

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What’s Dear Bridget all about? It’s a series of letters to a hypothetical teen girl named Bridget. Why Bridget? It means strong. And it represents the current generation of young women. These letters are my attempt to break through the chaos and the crap that’s flying at today’s young woman in order to offer advice and encouragement, from me and other incredible women who remember what it was like to be in her shoes.

If you’re a teen girl and you’ve got a question or issue you’d like us to address, let me know. Just click on the contact button (that round envelope icon at the top of the sidebar) and send me your thoughts. If you’re an awesome adult woman who remembers those teen years clearly and would like to write to Bridget, feel free to contact me and tell me about yourself.