Peace Lily Lessons About Sensitivity & Resilience

When we came home from Texas after ten days away, I found Lily, my peace lily, drooping in her pot.

I had left her in a baking dish full of water and pulled back the window blinds so that she could enjoy the sunlight in our absence, but the pan was dry and, with the heat shut off, the temperature in our apartment had dropped far below her temperate preferences. The stalks of her leaves folded sharply downward so that she resembled a spindly, pale green, many-legged spider.

I resigned myself to this evidence that I had not inherited my mother and her father’s green thumbs. Barely past the two month mark, my goal of keeping a plant alive and healthy for six months seemed sadly done for. Nevertheless, I watered her and turned on the heat and angled a small humidifier toward her leaves. By the next morning, she was already starting to perk back up. Two days later, her leaves were once again standing tall, their dark green color betraying little sign of her brush with neglect.

Peace lilies are supposed to be hardy plants. That’s one of the reasons I chose that species to start my new adventures in plant care-taking. Watching Lily rapidly un-shrivel and bloom in the days following our return, I found myself in the odd position of envying a plant. I want her resilience for myself.

On Christmas day, I burst into tears for some completely minor reason, startling my dad who started lecturing me about overreacting until my explanation that I cry practically every week gave him pause.

“I didn’t know you were so sensitive,” he said. “You don’t usually cry when we see you.” This, despite the fact that I had also burst into tears the previous Christmas. In case you haven’t guessed, I’m not very good at holidays.

“I cry all the time,” I tried to explain to him. “I broke down sobbing when I heard that Australia had voted in favor of marriage equality, and I’ve never even been to Australia.”

“I guess we just don’t see you for a full week most of the time,” he decided and let the matter drop.

I’m sensitive. It’s true. I flinch at sounds that don’t even register for Lawrence — and he’s no aural lightweight, painstakingly normalizing the volumes of mix CD tracks with barely-detectable fraction-of-a-decibel adjustments. My sister can tell you about the ordeal of trying to get a pencil liner or a mascara wand or (Heaven forbid!) a pair of false lashes near my eyes: I twitch and blink uncontrollably, leaving everything smeared and askew. My sensitivity to flavors in foods has made me the pickiest eater I know. I’m pretty sure I have a reputation among even my close friends for being particular and easy to offend. And I cry all the time.

The worst part, though, is how long it takes me to bounce back after something goes wrong. The aftertaste of a tense exchange can linger for hours. Arguments (and I’m very argumentative!) can make me feel off kilter for days. So it was probably inevitable that my two-for-one New Year’s Day birthday was going to include an argument, followed by a jag of crying, followed by long, wobbly hours wondering how to recover.

Finally, around eight or nine at night, I said to Lawrence, “Let’s just start over.” I know this sounds ridiculous, but I pretended it was morning, and I pretended to wake up to a fresh new birthday with no mistakes in it yet (to paraphrase my favorite literary heroine). I took a shower and got dressed, and we watched a movie and had cake, and by then night and morning were blurring back together. But still we had somehow managed to rescue this small sliver of cheer from an otherwise dreary day.

I’m sensitive. It’s true. But maybe my sensitivity is also the fuel for my imagination, which might be my richest tool for cultivating resilience. My plant needs light and water and warmth, and my soul needs the ability to imagine better, to imagine a reason worth striving and falling short and striving again. I hope each next age can bring me closer to that.