In Praise of Agnes

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

In praise of Agnes
Photo by Lis Johnson
By Lis Johnson

We find inspiration in many places – a book, a song, a movie, a smile. The list is as long as there are people to fill it. For me, inspiration came from a houseplant.

I know many folks who garden connect with their plants in a variety of ways, one reason being they know what they’re doing.

I am not one of those people. My thumb, unfortunately, is not green. It’s brown, because I’ve managed to kill most every plant that entered my possession – cactus included (I mean really, you only water the thing twice a year, and still I turned it into a sunken mess.)

But this plant, for whatever reason, is different. She came to me two years ago. I had gone through a bout of serious illness and my father in law, not one given to much sentimentality, was for some reason moved to send one of those floral baskets that includes a selection of cut flowers and one or two growing plants.

She was a spindly little thing in a small green plastic pot, tucked in the corner of the basket. My mother in law, who had come to help out while I recovered, pulled her out of the basket and put her in the kitchen window.

And there she would remain, in the same pot in the same place, for more than a year. Someone, I’m not sure who, put a saucer under her at some point, and she was watered only when one of us in the house opened the curtain and noticed she was still there.

Yet benign neglect and disinterest did not deter her. She hung on -- thin, underfed, and ignored, until one day, while sitting at the breakfast table, the early spring light coming through the window, I saw her. Really saw her.

That she was still alive was remarkable. Roots were growing out of the bottom on the little green plastic pot. The soil was so old, it has shrunk from the edges.

Yet she endured. And in that moment, she became something more than a houseplant. She became Agnes, a member of the family. We re-planted her in a bigger pot with good soil, started watering on a regular basis, and making sure the curtains were open so she could get plenty of light.

She moved from the window to the corner of the kitchen table and flourished. She’s been re-potted again, and I’ve even managed, in my neophyte way, to cut and transplant some of the many stems she produces. They all took root and continue to grow.

I would have understood if Agnes decided to give up, given that she had so little to hope for in the beginning. That she chose to survive, no matter what, is why I find such inspiration in her presence.

I speak to her every morning, and give her a light touch of affection. I know plants aren’t sentient in the way we are, but I do think they have an understanding of their environment and what or who is in it.

Because of her fierce determination, she outlasted my indifference. Apparently not one to hold a grudge, she has rewarded me with beauty. And a certain contentment. In some ways, I live in her world now. And if she can “think” in some fashion, my hope is that she’s enormously satisfied by that.


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