I begin this post with a confession: I have unintentionally killed every house plant entrusted to my care. While my parents and two older sisters all have homes filled with a variety of lush green plants, my home is littered with empty pots and planters, they are like the headstones of the innocent seedlings and plants who have perished under what must be my black thumb of death. Although a colleague of mine did offer this explanation for my plant graveyard by saying, “Some people (plants) will go to great lengths to get away from you.” Somehow, the thought of my plants killing themselves, as opposed to me killing them, somewhat cheered me up, but I know he was kidding, at least I think he was kidding.
In addition to being the Grim Reaper of the plant kingdom, I also am botanically illiterate, in that I cannot identify and name most flowers, trees, and plants, unless it is obvious what it is, like a rose-bush, a magnolia tree, a sunflower, etc. If I see something that is not easily and readily identifiable, I merely will say something to the effect of, “Well, look at that”, and wait for someone else to call it by its proper name, kind of like when you meet someone whose name escapes you, so, you hope someone else says it before you embarrass yourself. These two confessions could be grounds for having my southern belle card revoked, but I am committed to putting it all out there, so, there you have it.
Earlier this week, my ex-husband told me that he was going to bring over some weed killer and clean out my flower beds. I appreciated the offer, but I was confused as to what he was talking about, so, I asked him to show me the so-called weeds. We went outside, and he pointed to some “plants”, like the ones in this picture, and I still had to ask, “Are you sure those are weeds?” He smiled and gently said, “Yes; those are weeds” and wasn’t phased by the fact that I did not recognize weeds when I saw them. He has known me 22 years, and he is acutely aware of my shortcomings.
For some reason, this brief interaction stuck with me and my ex-husband became the basis for this blog. It struck me as funny that the weeds blended in with the other foliage, and I considered them to be as good as the other legitimate plants. This is sometimes how I see people who are considered “weeds” by others in our society. Some “weeds” are waiting to bloom with the proper care and attention, while other “weeds” try to overtake the other “plants” and destroy them. The trick is knowing which “weeds” need tending and which “weeds” need pulling.
The “weeds” who figure prominently in my life at the moment are the men I have the pleasure of working with at the local day shelter for men who are homeless. Last month, a friend of mine came to take a tour of the shelter, and when I walked him to his car, which was about a block away, I stood and watched the men who were in front of the shelter. I had never seen the shelter from this perspective, so, it was interesting indeed. It was a beautiful morning, and I could hear them chattering and laughing and see them smiling, drinking coffee, having a cigarette, talking with their friends, and just enjoying the mild weather. For some reason, this scene really touched me, and it made me wonder how other pedestrians and motorists viewed the same scene. Too often, people judge the men based on their outward appearances, which doesn’t measure up to society’s standards of beauty by any stretch of the imagination, as carrying all of your belongings in a well-worn backpack or garbage bag, wearing wrinkled clothing that you slept in, looking exhausted from living and sleeping in less than ideal conditions, sporting shoes that are falling apart from walking everywhere, etc. are not the top fashion trends this year or any other year. At times, some of the men do appear scary or behave in a threatening manner for a variety of reasons, but the vast majority of these “weeds” are more beautiful than the most exotic flowers in the world. When I looked at them from a block away, all I could see was each individual and their unique stories, not some nameless, faceless group of “weeds”, and I felt so very lucky to know them. I get to see every day these “weeds” blossom and grow, and that’s precious and priceless.
Later, my friend called to tell me that he stood and watched me talking with the men gathered outside for a bit before driving away, and he commented, “You were in your element.” He was spot on, as I also know what it’s like to be seen as a “weed” and to feel like a “weed” amidst a garden of seemingly perfectly pruned and pretty flowers. The pain and rejection that come from being seen as not good enough is haunting, and it is tough to see yourself as anything other than a “weed” once you are labeled as such. Not long after my friend’s visit to the shelter, I had dinner with two of my girlfriends at a place not far from the shelter. The next day when I went to work, one of the men approached me and said he saw my friends and me. When I apologized for not seeing him, he responded, “I was going to say ‘hi’, but you were with your lady friends, and I didn’t want to embarrass you.” I was taken aback, as I never would have been embarrassed to be greeted by him or any other of the men. So, I reassured him that I knew far more people outside of the shelter who would embarrass me in public than he or any of the men from the shelter would. He laughed and said, “I like you”, and I responded, “I like you right back.” Weeds stick together!
The following is one of my favorite stories from work about how “weeds” look out for one another and see things in one another that other “plants” do not notice. Last March, I was doing a home visit with one of the men who is in a permanent supportive housing program, and since his apartment is only a few blocks away from the shelter, I walked to the appointment. It was a sunny, warm afternoon, and the front stoop was crowded with other tenants, none of whom are in our housing program and none whom I knew. As I walked up the steps and exchanged pleasantries with the people gathered there, a woman complimented my purse, and I thanked her and spoke with her for a bit. At the entry way of the apartment building, I was greeted by another one of our men who is in the housing program, and we had a brief conversation before I went to do my home visit with the other man. A week later, I was back at the same apartment building for a home visit with the man who had greeted me at the entry way the previous week. When we sat down, he immediately said, “Miss Kristi, ever since I saw you here last week, I’ve been trying to figure something out. You know none of those people who were sitting on the steps live here, right? As I watched you make your way through a bunch of drunks, dealers, and whores, I couldn’t decide if you was brave or crazy, and a week later, I still can’t figure it out. Do you know who that woman was that said something to you about your purse? She’s nothing but an old whore, but you talked to her like she was some country club lady.” His comments made me laugh, and I told him that if he ever had to pick between me being ‘crazy’ or another adjective to always go with ‘crazy’, as it’s a safe bet. I also reassured him that I always am aware of my surroundings and the people in it, and I had found that treating people with kindness and respect usually was reciprocated. This amused him, but not as much as our follow-up conversation the following week amused me.
I was back over at the same apartment building, and I ran into this same man. He asked to speak with me before I did my home visit with another man, so, we talked with one another. The ensuing conversation was one for the books, or the blog, as the case may be. He seemed a little agitated and concerned, as he said, “A few days ago, I was walking home from the doctor’s, and I looked down the street and thought, ‘Who is that little white girl walking through the ghetto?!’. Then, I said to myself, ‘Oh good Lord, it’s Miss Kristi.’ You were walking in the ghetto like you belonged there. Miss Kristi, you’re straight up gangsta!” He then lectured me about personal safety and said he would walk me back to the shelter after my appointment. Let me set the record straight, the area I was in is not a ghetto, it was broad daylight, and, again, I was very aware of my surroundings and the people in it. I do not take unnecessary risks, and I really am not that brave. Who knew that a simple walk would earn me street cred, though?! He proceeded to tell other guys in our program and at the shelter about his observations, and it has been a great source of amusement for them and for me. So, don’t mess with this “weed”; I am a gangsta!
So, instead of stopping and smelling the roses, try stopping and nurturing the “weeds” of the world, as you may be surprised to learn that they are not weeds at all. Be careful, though, as some “weeds” need to be pulled from your life and some “flowers” are not who they appear to be. I have learned some heart-wrenching lessons from these types of “weeds” and “flowers” indeed.
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story