21: The Miracle of the Golden Pothos

21: The Miracle of the Golden Pothos

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

The Miracle of the Golden Pothos

Learn wisdom from the ways of a seedling. A seedling which is never hardened off through stressful situations will never become a strong productive plant.

~Stephen Sigmund

The year I graduated from high school, I became sick with an extended illness. It was quite a blow, in more ways than one. Not only did I miss prom and graduation, and all the other traditional senior year activities, but my college plans had to be put on hold. I was in bed for months, and cabin fever conspired to drive me almost as crazy as the illness itself. Sometimes, despite my doctor’s constant assurances to the contrary, it seemed like I was never going to get well.

I was lucky. My friends and family all rallied around me, keeping the VCR filled with movies and the bedside table loaded with interesting books. My Uncle Carl, affectionately nicknamed “Unc,” was a particular bright spot: he filled my mailbox with comics, very bad jokes, and beautiful photos of the wildlife and flowers around his home. But the best thing Unc ever did was to bring me a cutting of a Golden Pothos plant, somewhat haphazardly set into a cracked plastic seedling pot.

“There you go, young lady,” he said, setting the pot down amongst the clutter of magazines and prescription pill bottles that covered my bedside table. “You need something green and growing in your room if you want to get well.”

I must admit that I was less than impressed. Over the course of my illness, I’d been given many flowers as get-well presents, from the dandelions picked by my young neighbors next door to the cellophane-wrapped grocery store bouquets my classmates brought. In comparison, the little Pothos cutting looked bleak, to put it mildly, sitting alone in its battered pot with only three limp leaves.

“It’s very nice,” I said doubtfully, and politely searched for an objection that wouldn’t hurt my uncle’s feelings. “But I’m not sure I can take care of it, Unc. Cut flowers are one thing—nobody expects me to keep them alive for more than a week or so. But plants are different. And it’s not like I have a green thumb under the best of circumstances.”

“That’s why I brought you this,” Unc said cheerfully. “The plant I took this cutting from has been living in a dark corner of my office for years. I figured that if it can survive that, it can survive anything. All you have to do is keep it watered, like this.”

He took the carafe of water from the bedside table and carefully gave the cutting a good dousing.

“Oh,” he added as an afterthought, “and you have to talk to it, keep it from getting lonely. I think this plant looks like a Brian, doesn’t he?”

I was skeptical. I was more than skeptical—I thought my beloved Unc had temporarily taken leave of his senses.

I was sure that by the end of the week, if not that very day, I would be left with a collection of dead leaves. But much to my surprise, Brian persisted in staying alive. Somehow, he even managed to grow, sending out tiny shoots that ripened into truly stunning green and yellow leaves.

On bad days, I would just lie with my head on the pillow and watch the sunshine make ever-changing pattern on his leaves. On good days, I’d water the plant and fuss over him, telling him what a good job he was doing, how strong and beautiful he was becoming. And as Brian’s vines grew longer, an interesting thing began to happen. I no longer began to feel quite so isolated, quite so angry at being cut off from college and my friends. Instead I began to feel intensely connected to this tiny slip of a plant, bonded in a way I’d never expected. Eventually I realized that you don’t have to go college to learn important things. Brian was teaching me more than any university professor ever could.

Those of you who choose to share your lives with houseplants know exactly what I’m talking about. Tending those tiny, fragile shoots of green teaches us so much. We learn about our own power, how our small actions of watering and fertilizing and yes, affectionate speech, can make a difference from day to day to day.

We learn that the human heart can tangle its affections around the most unlikely objects, just like a Pothos twines around its pot. We learn about mystery, and surprise, because even the most inexperienced indoor gardener often has plants turn out in ways she never expected. Most of all, we learn that almost nothing is truly hopeless, that life has a way of recreating itself and thriving even under the most challenging conditions.

As Brian grew bigger and stronger, so did I. By the time he had outgrown his first pot, I was well enough to be out of bed for short periods. The first thing I did when I was able to stand up again was transplant Brian into a newer, lovely ceramic pot. And by the time that pot had grown too small, I was strong enough to leave my sickroom behind for good. I packed up Brian along with my clothes and my books, and we ventured out into the world together.

It’s been more than ten years since my uncle brought me that first fragile start. The original Brian has long since gone to the great greenhouse in the sky, but thanks to the miracle of the Golden Pothos’s ability to start over from fresh cuttings, one of Brian’s descendants has shared every place I’ve called home.

Today I have a particularly healthy specimen growing on a stand near my computer, where I can look at it whenever I’m writing and the words refuse to come. Its beauty is a constant reminder not to give up, that life may change drastically but always continues.

And when I look, I wonder if my Unc had any idea what he was really doing when he snipped a four-inch section of plant and stuck it in a pot to cheer up his favorite niece.

I imagine that he did.

~Kerrie R. Barney


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