Writers through the ages have plowed the agriculture lexicon to turn up metaphors for human growth. They are almost infinite.
We put down roots in a town and some roots run deep. We have Irish roots or Danish ones or Spanish. Our problems are often rooted in our past. Children grow like weeds and as their twig is bent, so shall they grow. Some kids are tall as bean poles or slim as string beans. Parents of young sprouts often nip things in the bud. Some kids become couch potatoes while others end up carrot tops and then there was also cotton-eyed Joe. Some people are said to grow strong as oaks while politicians are said to bend like willows in the wind. We humans seem to be able to easily identify with plants. Since the division between the plant and animal kingdom occurs at the very beginning of the taxonomy scale, one might think we are separated by great distance. However, as Wordsworth has poetically penned, “We are the stuff of stars.” Knowledge of physics has now caught up with what the poet intuited. All living things are made of the same basic stuff as the stars. We are so totally related.
The movie "28 Days" is about recovery from substance abuse. In the movie, the drug counselor suggests to one of the patients who is having difficulty making good relationships, “Get a plant and care for it for one year. If it doesn’t die, get a puppy and care for it for a year. If it is still healthy emotionally and physically after a year, you might be ready for a relationship with a human being.” I think of this advice often as I practice my favorite recreation, gardening, and my job as a Professional Counselor and teacher of parenting classes. The drug counselor in the movie seemed to know that learning what is required to grow a plant, is a great blueprint for learning how to care for other living things, too.
I think about how excited I get after planting seeds…excited to see if they will germinate and how quickly. I experience a rush of anticipation as I check daily for a hint…like the soil is pushed up a bit over the spot where I buried the seed. I anxiously hover over the dicotyledons as they push to open up and stand up, unfurl and become the first leaves that will nurture the fragile stem until the root can branch out, hold on better to the soil and be able to draw in the water and nourishment for the rest of the plant’s life. It is not unlike a human toddler transitioning from crawling to walking. The toddler begins on his belly, uncurls into a crawl, then tentative standing, ending with a triumphant upright stand. In my garden the death of a plant grieves me if it's untimely, but not as much if the plant has finished its work. When a person dies at a "ripe" old age, we feel differently than if it's a five-year-old child with so much promise. Gardeners realize that pruning can be helpful to growth but also mindful that harsh pruning, without sufficient knowledge, can kill the plant. Knowing when and how to intervene to help a child grow is not too different.
Helping people grow is my job as a counselor. Kids, like young plants, need a different kind of help than adults need. Their shoots are tender and still maturing, easily damaged and the damage sometimes still shows even if the wound is healed. Pruning and shaping attitudes and beliefs about life can be helpful to both children and adults. Support is often necessary to help people strengthen their lives, their resolve, their courage, to be able to stand up again, straight and strong. Sometimes after a storm, I think about my patients as I lift up the rain soaked flower heads or windblown stalks and secure them to the strong stake I’ve driven nearby. Sometimes a patient needs a new environment to flourish: a little more sun, or a little less, a smaller stage or a bigger stage, more of this or that emotional nutrient, relocating away from toxic chemicals or toxic people. The caring my garden teaches me, stands me well when my patient is wilted, or being aggressive to the neighbor or has faded to a lesser version of themselves. Sometimes they’re leaning strongly away from life and need re-direction or a storm has knocked them to the ground.
As I move back and forth between my two strongest life pursuits, I am made aware that growth itself is exciting, miraculous, inspiring, reassuring, fragile, precious, fascinating and essential. I have a front-row seat to growing things and growing people. Watching life up close as a gardener keeps me tuned in to this miracle that is life. Tomatoes and teenagers may not seem related and a stooped old man who has outlived most of his friends may not suggest a bonsai to you. To me, however it’s all one piece. The thread of life runs thru it all like a necklace of stardust and it is deeply satisfying to glimpse strong roots, new leaves, and flowers blooming.