It is difficult to say if my love for all creatures, great and small, developed because I was named after Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment. Or if I was born with an innate understanding of Saint Francis’ deep love for animals, the environment, and life. My appreciation for God and God’s creations, though, grows from everyday experiences.
Recently, a student bought a piece of bamboo to keep in our martial-arts school. He planted it in a small terra-cotta pot with a plain green glaze—the type you would find at Home Depot for about $5. It was a pretty piece of curly bamboo, but it was not healthy, and was dying in the school. It became progressively wan and yellow. The leaves that started to emerge from its happier days began to shrivel up and turn light brown and crispy. There was no new growth. Clearly it needed more light, and was also lonely. So I adopted it.
The mornings when I would come to the school to train, I would place it outside to take in the sun and to be near the other plants and creatures for company. The bamboo began to turn greener and new leaves began growing from the top. One day, I forgot to bring the bamboo back inside after I did my morning routine, so it was left outside overnight.
The next time I came to school, I noticed the pot was missing. I assumed someone took it home, or put it back in the school near the Buddha statues. Then I saw dark potting soil strewn across the stone crop where the bamboo pot used to be. About three feet away, on top of a spiderweb-covered patch of ivy, I saw a tangle of yellowish, rust-colored roots sticking up. The sun was beating down on them, drying them up. It was the piece of bamboo. Someone had torn it out of the pot and tossed it to the ground.
I was surprised and saddened that someone would do something so thoughtless and careless. I put the bamboo in an old water bottle to bring it home, where it is recovering near a sunny window near a newly propagated Christmas cactus that was a gift from my aunt and godmother. This piece of cactus is very special, because it came from a plant that belonged to my grandmother, who understood plants like no one else. She taught me how to love plants.
I found it curious that someone would give more importance to the pot—the lifeless outside vessel or shell—than to the life of the bamboo that was residing inside of it. The bamboo was thrown away with no thought that it would perish once it had been dislodged and its roots exposed. It also seemed very odd because whoever stole the pot took it with the idea to replace it with another plant. So that person thought that the other plant that would soon replace the bamboo had more importance than the bamboo already in there. Interesting.
The bamboo now resides in a new terracotta pot, a pot which used to hold a lemon tree that I planted from seed two years ago that it had outgrown. I placed some small, interesting rocks in the pot that I collected at Weko Beach when I visited my niece and godchild this summer. I believe these stones have a good energy. I ponder the idea that some life needs a pot or vessel, someone to care for it, and connection with other life and probably a combination of other circumstances/elements in order to thrive. Without this set of circumstances it would die.
It also occurred to me that some creatures have different needs to live, like the 250-yearold maple tree I can see from my window. Our needs may be few, but our needs vary depending on who we are. This tree is a hardy old-timer and is doing fine for now. But, clearly, life needs other life to live, and when one type of life finds other life that harmonizes together, life thrives. We are all connected.
The piece of curly bamboo is already growing new leaves and its color is changing into a deeper green, and the Christmas cactus is developing some fine hairlike bits on the tops of its leaves, which will soon grow into new branches and leaves. I realize that while I help these plants to grow, they are helping me to understand and cultivate a deep respect for God and God’s creations. Indeed, these plants are helping me to grow, too.
Francesca Notowidigdo is a freelance writer and artist in New York. Her artwork has been shown in New York, Florida, and Chicago.