Last February, as I was coming in from the yard, something caught the corner of my eye. My sweet little Kimberly Queen Fern. (I have since named her Frannie. Frannie the Fern. It brings me great joy.) For some reason that day, I truly saw her.
And she was a sad sight.
I had bought her in 2015 when we originally moved to Austin. I was so excited. We were moving into a house with a proper yard! After living in one bedroom apartments in LA for over a decade having this outdoor space was such a gift. I wanted this house to feel like a home, so the first plant I brought home was Frannie. I plopped her in a prize spot, the corner by the back door, where I would see her every time I stepped outside.
Fast forward to 2019. Four years later. There she was, still in the same spot, in the same black plastic pot I bought her in. The $3.99 sticker was even there. Her roots had long since escaped the bottom of that pot and her fronds were sparse, to say the least.
As I saw her that day, something inside of me ached. For both of us.
Now I had several other plants that were all doing quite well. But that day I realized that every other plant that I cared for was a cactus or succulent. The types of plants that do well when you just leave them alone. The type of plants that you only harm by nurturing them too much. Survivors.
What an apt metaphor this was for me and my life. For years, I had treated myself like one of those succulents. I didn’t need a lot to get by, whether it was food or money or love. I was able to survive on my own. I got by with little. It was a source of pride for me. As if not having needs meant that I was “good”. To get by and make do with what I had was to be “good”. To not want too much was to be “good”.
But then here was sweet Frannie, awakening and inviting me into another form of relationship, another way of being and seeing. I had tried my usual old tactics with her. And don’t get me wrong, she was still alive. I had taken her inside when the temperature dipped below freezing. I had watered her enough for her to last through four whole Texas summers. Clearly I had done something right! But I had never properly nourished or nurtured her. And it showed.
I had failed to tune into her specific needs, much in the same way that I had neglected to tune into my own.
That day, I decided it was time to make a different choice, for both of us. I went to the nursery and bought the most beautiful pot I could find. It was glazed ceramic, dripping in emerald green and teal. I got new soil. Plant food. With a prayer and an apology, I repotted her. Everyday I would say hi to her when I went outside. Tell her how beautiful she was. Check if she needed water. Cut away anything dry or dead.
Within a few months, she was a completely different plant. She was lush. Deep green. Fuzzy fronds unfurling. New life sprouting.
Frannie showed me what is possible when we are cherished. She taught me that to have needs and wants does not make us a burden, but that it can invite us deeper into relationship, with ourselves, with one another, and with the whole world. Yes, there is a quiet strength and beauty in the cactus. The resilience. The self-reliance. The saving for a non-rainy day.
But we are not all meant to be cacti.
In learning to tend and nurture and nourish Frannie, I learned how to tend and nurture and nourish myself in a new way. I discovered a part of me that blossoms only with time and care and attention and the patience to truly listen. Do I need to be doused in the soulful waters or put out in the sun? Is the earth where I am rooted fertile and life giving? Is there anything dead or drying that I am holding onto that I no longer need? What do I most need or yearn for in this moment?
By slowing down to ask the question, by really listening and actually caring about the answer, I learned to cherish a piece of myself that had gone dormant and coax her back to life.