life as a cactus

I left them to die. I had to go away for about a week and didn’t have time to deal with them. So I left them in my room, locking the door behind me with the life ebbing out of them. When I arrived home the other day their shrivelled corpses were there slumped by my window.

Marigolds and snapdragons are touchy, sensitive plants. I’ve decided I don’t do ‘high maintenance’. Or maybe I should’ve just put them outside in the sun. I dunno.

I don’t have the greatest track record with plants. OK, OK, I’m a serial killer. This is the reputation I’m garnering among family and friends. Over the years plant after plant has died. The little parlour palm and my Dracaena fragens ‘Massangeana’ I purchased recently also nearly gave up the ghost but lest you think me heartless let me clarify that in their case it was because I cared too much. Those things just wanna be left alone. Preferably in the dark (who am I to judge?). Yet despite almost completely loving the life out of it even the palm looks set to pull through. Ish.

This pathological repressed hatred of all things botanical seems to run in the family. One sibling has long since given up and changed to fake plants urging me, for the sake of any poor vegetation that might otherwise cross my path, to do the same. Meanwhile another sibling, apparently, killed a cactus. Yeah you heard me. I didn’t think those things even could be killed. You may be designed to survive the harshest, most plant hating terrains on earth, but you’re no match for our gene pool.

It was in fact while I was at the nursery picking out my poor doomed garden flowers that a friend actually suggested that I get a cactus.  I declined, long feeling that in their grim, stoic I’m-still-here-come-and-get-me-ism towards the aridity of life and their passive aggressive  stay-the-hell-away-from-me attitude to all other living things, not to mention their plain old squat ugliness cacti are rather depressing plants. Just move somewhere fertile, grow some leaves, look nice and chill out, for crying out loud. Before I could point this out my friend told me the reason I should get one is that they’re the perfect plant for me. Representative. Cheers buddy.

And yet this throw away line, like so many, became a seed planted in my brain. As I contemplated the brown husks of flowers I knew awaited me when I returned home yet being unwilling to concede botanical defeat the seed grew and I decided to embrace the cactus in all its butt ugly glory as my own. Why not embrace the truth? I’m not daisies and dandelions after all (thank goodness), but I’m still here. And though my transformation long ago into a person guarded behind a thick protective, spiky barrier that both I and those I love find so difficult to penetrate has been one of the deepest griefs of my life, sometimes that which causes pain also brings about something good. I’m still here. And I know now what I must do.

And so I write. I have begun and I won’t stop. It takes its time, effort and devotion but the ball point is the weapon I wield, with which I’ll pierce a hole in that tough flesh to let out some of the stuff stored up inside.  It takes time, effort, devotion – but it gives such joy. Drink or not as you wish, just mind the spikes.

So there now sits a little pincushion cactus on my window sill. It’s small and squat, but in a lovable kind of way, and I hear it’s beautiful in bloom. Growth will be very slow, but it will grow.

And it will live.

(Wellllll… then again I sort of tipped it over in the bag as I was walking home. Got all the soil back in the pot but was it naturally growing with that lean when I purchased it? We’ll see).

on dying

1 2/3 what I’ve already lived so far. That’s how much time I have left on this earth, if I have a really good run. That’s not long, in the grand scheme of things.

I’m studying the Bible at Bible college at the moment, and last week one of our lecturers took a small group of us out to a cemetary at a local church and told us to wander around and contemplate our mortality. And I did. 50 more years, on a really good run. I could have 1 more day.

Sobering thoughts, when I consider my life so far, choices made, relationships formed and lost, opportunities missed. What do I want my life to have been at the end? What do I want those at my funeral to remember about me? As I gazed at weathered headstones over 100 years old, names fading into oblivion under the elements, all sense of what I might acheive and accomplish faded from view. What will matter is whether I knew God and walked with him, and whether I loved people; the man I was, my character. How I loved people, or not. Whether I was strong for people, kind. Whether I helped them. Whether I showed them a bit of who God is. It stirred me to seek to change some things in my life and relationships.

It might seem depressing to reflect on your coming death, but it hasn’t depressed me at all. Sobering, but not depressing. In our hectic, frenetic lifestyle of going and doing, striving and getting, attaining and ammassing, very few of us ever take the time to reflect on where it’s all headed. We all end up in the grave.
For the Christian, there is no need to fear death, because our trust is in the One who overcame death and rose to life, so that any one who trsuts in him would have that eternal life. It’s secure in what he’s already accomplished, not any thing I can do. It really settled on me that it’s not about what I get in this life, because for the Christian, true life begins after death. It was good to reflect and realise that what I have always beleived to be true in my mind is starting to become the reality of my heart. That’s not at all to deny the grief and sadness from the loss that death brings, but the enduring hope that Jesus won for us.

At the end our lecturer had someone read out a poem by a man named John Donne, a Christian from the 19th century, who spent many years very sick and facing his own mortality. And yet he could right this:

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

Death Be Not Proud
by John Donne