It was nearly dead when I moved in.
The Peace Lily was sad and brown and had ceased to bloom long ago. It was in the same unattractive green pot it had been in when I purchased it at a grocery store. It had never thrived. Its one bloom faded and fell and then all the leaves started to do the same. It was really more out of reflex than plan that I brought it with me when I moved into my landlord Robert’s house.
While unpacking, I realized the lily did nothing to improve the appearance of my new room. On my way to the compost pile, I told Robert I was pitching this sad-looking plant.
“Why?” he demanded.
“Because it looks awful. It’s almost dead. It is an eyesore.”
“Don’t throw it out!” he insisted and he took it from me and set it on one of his oversized stereo speakers. Robert is not interested in new, compact sound equipment. A musician, he prefers to listen to vinyl records on very large speakers that sit in the corners of the room.
My old plant found a new home in the corner of the living room and spent the remainder of the winter getting dustier and sadder-looking while Robert dutifully watered it. Twice I threatened to throw it out when company was expected and twice he stopped me, insisting that the plant was preparing to stage a comeback. I left the nearly-dead plant where it was, shaking my head a little every time I passed it to go to my room. It was his house, after all.
Robert is a special ed teacher. He has a college degree, but not in the subject he is teaching and he does not have a degree in teaching. But special ed teachers are hard to come by in the public schools here, so Robert is diligently working to qualify for licensure while teaching his special ed classes. The kids— many of them young adults— have every imaginable kind of challenge. Many of them are poor, most come from difficult home situations. They have learned, by the time they come to Robert’s class, that they do not like school and teachers do not like them. They are angry and bitter and often swear at each other and at Robert, sometimes letting their anger erupt into physical violence. It is not an easy teaching gig.
But Robert has lasted a long time in a field where burn-out is rampant. He laughs with his students. He keeps trying different things to help them learn. He disregards rules that have no tangible benefit to his students and complies only with those rules that are useful and enforceable. He explains, in very blunt terms, why finishing high school would be a good thing. He does not expect miracles, but he does not throw in the towel.
I returned from the Midwest and sitting in the middle of the dining room table was my old plant. I did not recognize it at first. Robert had re-potted it into a bright blue pot and it was enormous. It had turned a brilliant shade of green and had huge new leaves popping out in every direction.
“I don’t believe it,” I told Robert.
“I may have to get a larger pot,” Robert replied.
I was touched by his faith, touched by his optimism, touched by his willingness to believe that this plant was capable of becoming something so strong and beautiful.
I think I could learn a lot from Robert.
Till next time,