For the last couple of weeks, I have been reminded of the fragility of the human spirit and the power of hope. But it is more than hope. Hope seems more passive to me now. I hope I will be healthy and happy, but how do I going about putting that hope into action. What craft moves can I make to have a positive, affirming life? I used to think that if I worked hard everything would fall into place. I would just work harder and hard and harder. Sure, I received some positive results but at what cost? I was working so hard until I was soon completely exhausted. I not only was exhausting my body; I was exhausting my mind and spirit. I was depleting all my reserves. Then I realized that my dogged tenacity could be used in a different way. I could relax into the difficult parts. I could begin to trust myself.
This week, I read Ruth Ayres’ article in the Choice Literacy Newsletter called “Slightly Alive.” In the article Ruth talks about her tenacious belief that a houseplant would heal and revive. With consistent watering and care the plant did begin to grow again. Ruth declares, “It wasn’t complicated to restore, but it did take relentless hope and a belief that the things I knew it needed would be enough in the end.” I love the idea of relentless hope – that belief in eventual positive outcomes. It is what has always pulled me through.
My friend and fellow blogger, Molly James, also wrote about restoration this week in her post, “Nourishing Me and My Creativity.” Molly described a recent journey into her garden: “The chard was hidden beneath zucchini plants that grew to an enormous size. When we finally removed the behemoths, the chard was there, a bit worse for wear, but still there. I’ve been watering it, admiring it, and encouraging it to grow. Amazingly, it’s producing beautiful new leaves.” I embraced the idea of worse for wear but still there. I think of myself that way. I am have some visible and invisible battle scars but I’m still here. I’m still growing and can produce beautiful leaves.
I smiled when I read Ruth’s and Molly’s words. I have had a similar mindset and experiences. When I was in college I grew an avocado tree from a pit. It grew lush in a corner of my dorm room. Mr. Avocado became my great green friend. It felt so good to grow something from a seed. The plant grew and grew and grew he became over three feet tall in a very short time. When it was time for winter vacation, I shared a ride home with a friend of mine and her boyfriend. I took my beloved avocado with me wrapped in blankets. On the way home we stopped at my friend’s house for a few hours. I wanted to bring Mr. Avocado in the house with me. My friend’s boyfriend laughed at me. He thought I was silly and said the plant would be fine in his car. In knew he was wrong, but I didn’t argue, and I left Mr. Avocado out in cold. Of course, the plant got frostbite. When I got Mr. Avocado to my house, his leaves drooped dried and turned brown. After mourning the loss of Mr. Avocado for a few days, I cut his stem back and hoped he would revive. I stayed hopeful for months, I watered and fertilized him well into the summer. Mr. Avocado was not slightly alive, he was totally dead; he was not coming back. But I never forgot him.
Many years later, I gathered the courage to grow another avocado plant. This time, I started the project at school to show the children how plants grow. To my delight the pit began to sprout and soon there were leaves. A second Mr. Avocado was born and began to flourish. I was so happy. Year after year, I brought the avocado plant home for winter and summer vacation. I was determined that this one would not suffer the first one’s fate. Then one January weekend the furnace at school broke, and it was ice cold when we returned on Monday morning. I ran to my plants. The small ones looked a bit wilted but seemed like they would recover. Mr. Avocado’s leavers had fallen to the floor. I was in despair. This could not be happening again. This time, I had a partner to help me. Benita, the woman who cleaned my office every night was an avid gardener. Benita and I often talked about our grandfathers: hers from Colombia, mine from Italy. Both men had amazing green thumbs. Benita had helped me care for my plants over the years. When I showed her the avocado, she clicked her tongue and shook her head. Together, we cut down the stem and watered the soil. Then Benita suggested to put the plant in the window of another office with a southern exposure. I agreed and tried to hope. Every couple of days I would check Mr. Avocado. I found the same thing: a stem sticking out of the dirt. I was disheartened. I didn’t visit him as much. Then one afternoon, Benita came to my office with the large pot in her arms. “Mira… look,” she said. I jumped up, “It’s growing?” I asked. Indeed it was! A bright green shoot was poking out of the dirt! Soon it was growing strong. Today, it is six feet tall, and I’m trying to figure out what to do when it hits the ceiling. It’s funny how such a simple living thing can give such hope. I firmly believe in restoration. So many times when we face obstacles we think it’s all over, there is no hope, all is lost. However, if we are patient and stop to reflect, we can find a way for hope to overcome and bring little joys.
This reminds me of all my work with students over the years. I have always been drawn to the kids who were facing obstacles either academically or emotionally. Maybe it’s because I see myself in them. Maybe it’s because I have not abandoned hope and believe everyone can recover and thrive. On the surface, they may be Dyslexic, Dysgraphic, have ADD or ADHD, anxiety disorders, or any number of learning differences, but way down underneath there are strong roots taking hold that will keep them upright and allow them to grow. As a teacher, I feel that it is my responsibility to take a breath, keep an open mind, and look beyond the surface. What tools can I use to nurture these tender beings? I know that if I am relentless and keep my sense of humor, these children will grow and flourish.