Artist’s Date 13: Growing Something Green While My Soil Lies Fallow

I do not have a green thumb.  I’ve pretty much killed everything left under my watch.

My roommate Mona’s house plants which I couldn’t seem to remember to water while she was in Paris for two weeks.  The organic vegetable garden perched behind the house my ex-husband and I rented in Seattle that turned to seed.  A housewarming gift from my friend Tori, a fern, which she assured me, was very easy to care for.

So it was a bit of a surprise walking home Friday with a $30 jade plant in my hand.  It’s shiny, red-tinged leaves sprouting out of a rustic, terra-cotta planter, and safely nestled in a mesh wire basket with a loop on top for hanging.

And yet, it wasn’t.

Meditating that morning, my thoughts drifted to the suggested year off from dating and my jumble of emotions swirling around it.  I noticed each thought, watched it, and returned to the mantra – just as I was taught to do. 

A new thought emerged.  A recollection of prescriptions for planting crops in the Torah.  That every couple of years, there is a single year when nothing is planted.  The soil is allowed to be fallow.  To rest. Regenerate.  In preparation for new planting.

I knew this year off from dating was my soil resting.  Going fallow.

It was a comforting thought.  Followed by another, “Buy a plant.”

I thought it might be useful to tend to something besides myself.  To water and pull leaves and put in sun if so required.  To watch another living entity cycle through a year of seasons.  That perhaps we might grow together.  It seemed poetic.  All except the part where I’m bad with plants.

I met with my rabbi later that morning and shared my meditation with him.  He smiled and pulled out a copy of the Five Books of Moses.  Leviticus 25.  The Sabbath year.  Specific instructions that every seventh year nothing should be planted.

He also mentioned a Jubilee year.  Seven Sabbath years.  A return to one’s property and one’s clan.  I liked the sound of it.

It occurred to me that my year of Torah study in Seattle was not for naught.  And it wasn’t lost on either of us that this seemed an internal, gentle nudging back in the direction of my faith.  Something I seemed to all but abandon since returning to Chicago – with the exception of monthly meetings with my rabbi. 

We rarely talk about Torah.  But this time we did.  We talked about prayer too.  How I pray.  How I meditate.  How I listen for guidance.  And how I hear it.

Later I went walking.  To lunch with a friend.  To the Chinese grocery store whose smell I could not quite place.  A little bit rotting – but not in an altogether unpleasant way.  All the aisle signs were written in Chinese characters, making it challenging to locate the green curry paste. 

In my search I came across packages of Hello Kitty Mango Marshmallows and cookies with a panda bear on the front.  In the last aisle I found the paste in a plastic vat too large to carry home.  Then a second smaller one.  More than I will use in this lifetime to be certain but it was all they had.  I paid for it and continued on.

On the way home I found myself at the threshold of Alapash – a store I’ve passed many times but never stepped into.  I have a beautiful terrarium from here, a gift from my friend Clover.  It is filled with black sand, stones and tiny cacti.  A small gold deity poking through the terrain.  Something I ostensibly could not do damage to.

I walked in and immediately had the sensation that I never wanted to leave.  It was warm, both in temperature and environment.  A perfect respite from the cold, damp outside.  I was surrounded by air plants, cacti and succulents, salvaged wood and metal.  The smell of fig and ginger hung in the air.  Earthy and sweet.

I told the owner, Marco, about my lack of green thumb, and my desire to grow something.  He brought a jade to me.  He said it was easy to care for, didn’t require much light – just a half a cup of water, once a month.  He added that the jade will tell me what it needs if I pay attention to it.  I was sold.

I admired his gold Ganesh on the counter.  Marco said Ganesh had been good to him.  That he had to be careful what he prayed for because Ganesh brought him all of it.  “Too generous.  Too much.”

Something about Marco’s Ganesh, his passionate belief in it, his openness in telling me his story, allowed me to tell him mine.  I told him about my divorce.  About the suggestion I don’t date for a year.  About meditating in front of my Ganesh and hearing that I am the soil and this is my year for not planting.  For resting.  And the guidance to buy a plant.  To tend to its soil as I tend to mine.

I felt a little silly, vulnerable – fearing I was like the drunk on the barstool holding the bartender hostage with his woes and pet theories.  Marco must have sensed this.  He said that once a day, nearly every day, someone walks in and tells him their story.  That he is always honored to hear it.

I stuck my finger in the soil.  It felt dry.  I asked if I should water it.  He said no, not yet.  That its soil should be mostly dry.  He reminded me that succulents grow in the desert.  That they take their nutrients slowly, from what seems like nothing.

I asked if the jade would outgrow its pot.  He said that the jade prefers small, compact spaces and that the pot was large enough for five years.  I thought of my one-bedroom apartment, which most of the time seems plenty big for me – and me alone – but would certainly never be considered spacious.

He showed me how to cut off leaves and shoots.  Told me to set them on the counter until they sprout, and then pot them – growing more jades.  Marco added that jade was lucky.  That it brings money.

I paid for the plant.  Much more than I would have elsewhere, I am certain.  But I trusted that I was supposed to be hear.  Be here.  (My fingers slipped while typing.  I felt compelled to leave the homonym – the wrong kind of here.   For it really was the right kind too.)

Last night, a few of the leaves looked wrinkly.  Was it the cold, wet transport home?  Or was the soil dry?  I watered it just a little.  And then I waited.

The leaves are still wrinkly.  Imperfect.  I’m afraid I’m doing it wrong.  That I’m already killing it.  I thought about calling Marco.  About researching jade care online.  Instead I stood by it. 

I looked at it lovingly, bent down and whispered, “I don’t know how to care for you.  So you are going to have to tell me what you need.  OK?  And I will do my best to care for you.”

The words as much for me as for the jade.

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