If you have ever inhaled the luscious, sweet fragrance of the Gardenia plant, consider yourself deeply honored. The Gardenia is hailed as exotic, with her deep green leaves and delicate, woody stalks. She stands royal in her intoxicating glory. But know this, Gardenias do not just show up and throw down a petal party, they require – no, they demand- specific temperatures and precise humidity in order to thrive and live their best life. I know this, as I have failed many times in caring for them.
I think about how often we fall in love with the novelty of things. We search out a lively looking plant that can bring forth a scent that reigns over Fabreeze; we spend money to make her ours, bringing her into our domain. Weeks pass without conceptualizing the magnitude of her care and she slowly begins to fade.
Watching a plant die can cast a shadow of shame – its lifeless pedicel becomes a symbol of our inadequacy, so before she gets too unsightly for us to bear, we discard her in Wednesday’s trash.
Sure, a plant is not the same as getting a puppy or giving birth, but isn’t caring for a plant the simplest form of practice for learning the process of care taking? Wouldn’t we do well to learn how to properly care for a plant before we go and start leading people, influencing others, or starting a movement?
Investing the time into discovering the art of understanding living things – the delight of recognizing what it needs to thrive, and the joy of honoring its demands, leads to wholehearted care giving. Mastering these skills allows for the living to flourish.
Could it be that we just don’t take caring for things as seriously as we should? Have we replaced the word “care” with “leadership”, therefore desensitizing ourselves from the humanity of our influence? Perhaps we are addicted to the notoriety and novelty of positional leadership more than we experience deep satisfaction of the quality and integrity that leadership demands.
And how about when these living things we have acquired begin wilting, are we willing to look at the care we have administered, taking accountability for the culture and soil that we have established? Or, do we blame expressions of affliction on everything and everyone else?
When I walk into someone’s space and I see healthy, thriving plants, my trust level shoots up. There is something sturdy about the wisdom of those who have learned to care for plants; people who have taken the time to understand needs of sunlight, water, and the individual demands of each plant’s care; people who have found joy in monitoring and assisting in the health of the “least of these”.
These are the people in whom I can usually trust to add great value to my life. I am almost certain that I may find something to learn or some form of enlightenment, simply by knowing them.
In fact, nowadays I look for the plant people. I search out the simple care givers.
Fake plants filling an office or home make me incredibly uneasy. The same goes for candles. There is something deeply authentic about people who mist leaves, prune leaves, and adjust lighting – people who light the wick, position the candle, and respectfully take the drip of the wax into consideration.
A counterfeit flame does not hold the same power as the dangerous heat of a living fire. And a false leaf does not omit the life-giving properties of oxygen.
I wonder if we had more plant people at The White House, more plant people behind the pulpit, more plant people wearing badges, or more plant people in schools. I wonder if we might experience a more thriving humanity?
To test and strengthen the ability to lead – simply bring home a plant. Research its needs, adjust your lifestyle to properly care for it, and seek to discover the joy of making your care an art. Accepting the great responsibility of caring for a living thing, and taking it a little more seriously, grants us witness to the unique beauty and divine aroma that comes from being a wholehearted caretaker.