Friends and family who’ve known me always suspected me of being a serial killer, as least when it comes to plants. They routinely ended up dead in my care, for, unlike my cat, they didn’t put up a loud and persistent fuss when I neglected them. My cactus managed to endure such treatment, but the rest of the greenery inevitably withered and died when I became engrossed in some project.
June last year rolled around, contracts and school semesters came to a close, and the perennial exodus of family, friends and colleagues began. For those of us who live and work abroad, summer is always a season of mixed feelings: the anticipation of travel and the dread of saying goodbye to loved ones who are going for good. I was offered 5 plants by a dear departing friend who wasn’t aware of my sinister reputation. I vowed to change my ways and religiously water them in his memory.
I was surprised and happy when they all did magnificently well, except, that is, for one recalcitrant ivy. I put it on a window ledge behind the sofa, and as the days passed it appeared to sulk in silent resentment. Within weeks, full-blown plant depression had set in. Despite the best of my attentions, it withered and drooped until it was nothing more than a single scrawny strand with a handful of yellow leaves attached. After months of looking at the half-dead thing and feeling guilty and defensive, I was tempted to throw it out. But then I decided to try one last thing.
I moved the plant to another part of the house, next to the other plants. Now this was on the same side of the building, the light was the same, and it received the same routine of care. The only change was that it was now among other plants, in its own tribe. Who is to say if plants get lonely? But this one sprang to life and sprouted multiple lush green tendrils that eventually wrapped themselves around my bookcase and entwined the legs of a table.
I know we’ve been told to bloom where we’re planted, and we can’t just irresponsibly pack up and abandon lives we’ve built whenever the going gets tough. But neither can we just ignore it if we’re failing to thrive in the circumstances we’re in. If we feel alone, or we don’t have a reason to get up in the morning, we need to figure out what’s wrong. The times when I attempted to simply tough it out and soldier on, I withered emotionally, physically and spiritually.
Community is essential, and for people whose jobs routinely take them to new places, it can be hard to build friendships and find connection. Finding your own tribe, the people who understand you and accept you, takes time and effort. But connection with others can mean the difference between a life that’s meaningful and a life that’s, at best, meh.
Your tribe may be local, or they may be fellow transplants, but they are out there. It doesn’t necessarily take a change of field to find them, but placing yourself among them may be the key to personal growth. (And I am happy to add that I am now a reformed killer, and live with 18 potted plants who all appear to be perfectly content.)