Today, I gave up. There was nothing more I could do. With more leaves dropping and drooping than remaining, it became clear my mantle garden had to go.
At the beginning of the pandemic, inspired by the office plants I had taken home (and the racks of houseplants beckoning to me as I waited in grocery store lines), I purchased an odd assortment of house plants. Ferns and succulents alike filled my home, reminding me in a time of uncertainty that life is abundant, no matter how cramped or closed in it may feel.
I tended to them with care, making sure the soil was not too dry, not too moist. I actually read the plastic stakes and placed the plants accordingly throughout my house. And, for a while they grew and blossomed with vigor.
But, as the pandemic wore on and more crises arose, my care for them became a bit erratic. Perhaps, it was the start of homeschool on top of work or the mobilizing for fall quarter or maybe simply a case of COVID fog rolling in. I simply couldn’t care for them like I once had. I would discover they were dry and drench them in water to make up for my mistake or I would find them soggy (who would have guessed?!?) and try to dry them out in the sun. The plants would shrivel and perk up on a seemingly endless cycle.
Except today, I learned the cycle is not endless.
The constant stress of too much/not enough has finally gotten the best of these poor plants.
They, too, fell victim to surge fatigue.
As we reach the six month marker of the pandemic in the United States, much has been written about this concept of surge capacity, the set of adaptive strategies that allow humans to adjust to living under short term stressful situations.
In March, after our initial shock, we found ourselves able to rally with the idea that this would be a few weeks, a few months at the most. We reframed and dug in. We sprinted long and hard with a faint light at the end of the tunnel calling us forward. Yet, throughout these months the tunnel has not only grown longer, it has changed direction multiple times. One pandemic multiplied into many as our nation confronted the impact of white supremacy and systemic injustice, as fires and hurricanes left devastation in their wake, and as democracy hung in the balance of a contentious and fraught election season. Chronic stress itself is riddled with inequities. The toll it takes on marginalized and underserved communities is exponentially more difficult.
Trying to grapple with a prolonged state of emergency, we are all learning what it means and how it feels to live in a state of constant stress.
My poor plants remind us all that the cycle is not endless. We cannot run forever on Energizer Bunny mode. Our surge capacity has limits.
When we recognize this, we can begin to make changes in our lives to refill our depleted capacity. Gritting our teeth and pretending we are okay when we are not, is not going to see us through. It is okay to admit you have reached your limits. We all do. Accepting this is the first step.
Renewing surge capacity looks different for everyone. It might mean returning to the schedules that saw us through the first few weeks...daily walks, honest lunch breaks, or family game nights. It might be picking up a new hobby or interest beyond the breadmaking or canning of the summer. Your surge capacity might be refilled by taking time away to recharge or perhaps be replenished by connecting and re-connecting with those you love most. Resilience might be found in taking to the streets in protest or quietly sending get-out-the-vote postcards from home. It might be nurtured in novels or poetry or prayers abandoned along the way.
When my plants are stressed beyond the care of the hospital wing of my kitchen sink, I take them outside and allow nature to do what I cannot.
Last spring this plant (in the second picture) was at the end of days. Only a single yellowed leaf remained. Beyond my ability to nurture it back to health, I put it on the patio, to rest from the stressful cycles of too much/not enough. With time and the right kind of care from Mother Nature, the plant has rebounded, renewed and resurrected.
Life still remains abundant, no matter how cramped or closed in we feel, no matter how depleted and tired we are. We simply have to take time to cultivate it once again.
Dean T.L. Steinwert
Dean for Religious & Spiritual Life