Monday, June 6, 2011

In Praise of Weeds (the nuisance plants, not the show or illegal substance)

As a suburban homeowner, I should make this clear. I’ve purchased Round-Up, and I’m not afraid to use it.

But I appreciate the likes of dandelions, chickweeds and their ugly cousins hairy fleabane and oxalis more and more these days. Those unsightly, haphazard and intrusive bits of greenery that pepper a lawn with uneven patches, varied textures and irregular blends of color are truly part of the natural order of things.

They are part of the “big picture” of life.

Of course, I don’t always like weeds when I’m gardening. But when I’m pensive or feeling philosophical, I tend to see things differently. It is then that I like weeds for what they represent: rebellion, non-conformity, imperfection. I appreciate them for what they say as they poke through the cracks of my sidewalk or my patio.

Weeds are nature’s Post-It Notes. The small ones whisper, and the large ones shout: “YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL HERE!”

Sometimes, we need to be reminded that perfection is an illusion, that control is relative. 

In the past two weeks, I’ve been delayed by bad weather, a power outage, a sewer back-up, and a dead car battery. I know others who have had more dramatic weeds in their lives recently—health problems that were ignored for too long and turned into something serious, poor choices that delayed new beginnings and healthy growth, bitterness that escalated into financial consequences.

We all have weeds in our lives.

Some weeds we share over lunch or complain about at the water cooler. Some weeds we hide to mask our imperfect lives and to maintain the persona we have created for the world at large—on Facebook or in our own relationships. But what weeds tell us is that these problems and issues are things that bind us together in our inability to fully control our own universes. Whether it’s the imperfect husband who strays, the child who gets into trouble, the old friend who disappoints, there are remedies for each of these situations and usually part of the remedy involves self-reflection, adaptation and acceptance.

Here’s what else I’ve learned from weeds. Sure, you can pull them, but unless you treat the root they will grow back, sometimes stronger, larger, uglier. And not all weeds are ugly. Some have pretty flowers of lilac and gold, some have white feathery petals that seem heaven sent.  It's as if, by noticing the pretty weeds, we are reminded that sometimes even what's unexpected or unwanted can bring beauty, joy or color to our lives.

Dealing with weeds is a personal matter. We can keep them small and manageable, coexist with them and trim them back from time to time. If we have the energy, we might even spray a little Round-Up on them or dig down to the core when they bother us too much. Or, depending on our state of mind, we might even start seeing them as everyday reminders that imperfection is a natural state for living things—and finally embrace that.

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