How the leaves grow

It is December and that’s impossible. Having crossed off days on my various calendar for months, whinged and whined and raced to the twelfth and final month of the year I’m in a state of slow denial. What strange summer is this I find myself awaking to, drowsy and lethargic? I struggle now to place myself between the years of my life.

I am used to marking my life by countries and huge life-changing decisions. 2016 has been devoid of these. There was no country I moved to or back from. There was no love lost or won. Nothing, visible or apparent, has changed my life in the ways that I am used to it being changed.

But of course things have changed.

For one, I am a plant person now. If there are cat ladies and bag ladies then surely there can be plant ladies too (men appear to be simply men, regardless of their obsessions). It started with potted colour, grew to a few herbs and now has morphed itself into a habit of lusting after plants (particularly succulents) so badly I have been known to uproot some without permission (stealing?) from private gardens. Yes, I have turned into my mother.

The balcony that our room and living room opens up onto is my sanctuary. It is decorated with Mexican day of the dead flags and Bolivian mantas. One day I was sitting out there taking it all in when The American chanced up on me smirking, shaking his head he said ‘Just a girl and her plants’ with that non-movie accent he has that makes people think he’s Canadian. I was staring at my plants – observing them wilt or rebound, lean toward the light or droop toward the floor. I am fascinated by the reality that you can see life grow before your own eyes, if you stop to look for long enough.

This is how leaves grow, quietly and in between looks. This is how the year went, the way leaves grow.

It is these tiny, unsung changes that are the most enduring. These six years of my twenties I have been roaring, panting, throwing myself into change. I wanted to sprout, to flower, to reach and lean heavy into the sun. Having sprouted, flowered, reached, leaned – how then to measure the value of standing still? Of letting the roots grow deep at the expense of more height, more flowers.

There have been only humbling moments this year. This was not a year to be proud of myself and pat myself on the back for a year well done. I haven’t been asked to talk but to listen. In different ways, in work, in love, in friendship, in family, I have been asked to consider my role in the picture of things. I have been asked to look at the childish, darker, immature but deeply embedded parts of myself and to see what I want to do about it. If I want to do anything about it. It’s been a year of change underground. Soul work not soul-searching – infinitely less glamorous but forever rewarding.

This is the work of the soul:

Love: I’ll never get over the surprise of discovering how much work goes into love. Nobody tells you, really. If you want to know the true wonders of neuro-plasticity, get into a long-term relationship and then try to stay in one. You will have to face up to your own inconsistencies, irrationalities, mood-swings and flaws. You will have to look them in the eye, own-up to them, be accountable for them – and if you’re good – vow to change them – and if you’re really good – then move to change them – and if you’ve got time and anything left over – succeed. Then you’ll wake up the next morning and have to do it all over again. If you’re anything like me this will hurt your pride and even your self-image. It will also save you years of fighting and stale-mates (at least I’m hoping). The soul-work that goes into love should never be written off. Popular culture robs us of depth when it sells us the myth of easy, quick, fit-like-a-glove love because love hard-won is the only kind of love there really is.

Loss: Friendships, habits, dreams, favourite dresses. Things are lost with time. We give things up of our own free will or indifference. Sometimes we fight to keep things that we lose anyway. I have lost friendships to the quiet tide of life and some of these I have watched drift away, doing nothing to step closer. I have lost dreams I once had but don’t care for anymore. I have given up ideas and values I thought I couldn’t live without. The story of change is also the story of loss and you cannot have one without the other.

Work: Because for most of us this is a third of our lives and half of our waking hours. Adulting is also soul-work, mostly how to maintain the light and tend to the joy of your soul amidst the idea of seriousness that adulthood can bring. It can be challenging to remember how big the world is outside of the work you do, to remember the things you love and are capable of. Work is also the vessel through which we learn and measure ourselves, against our peers and our expectations. The soul-work of work is finding the connection to other souls and being real and authentic and kind about it.

Love, loss and work. The year has sauntered by unnoticed, like the leaves of the jacaranda tree I stopped paying attention to once the purple snow of its flowers had left it bare. I woke up a few days ago to find it full, bulky with a thick coat of green that hides the apartments across the street and makes me forget that only weeks ago there was nothing there.

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