Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Avacados and Self-Reflection

Several weeks ago, a Papua New Guinean friend of ours brought us three young avocado trees.  We had asked her for one, but she brought three, hoping that “at least one would make it.”  The smaller two had been attacked by some kind of parasite, and the laciness of their leaves indicated a probable transplantation failure.  The leaves on the largest (about two and a half feet tall), however, were unaffected by these bugs, and seemed to promise sure success.   Paul planted them, and since then has tended and watered them religiously.
Within just a couple of weeks, the middle-sized one (we’ll call it “Specimen B”) died a rapid, unglorified death.  Its wilted, black excuse for a twig still stands in our yard, mostly, I suppose, as a monument to our laziness.
“Specimen A,” the largest one, the one that seemed to hold the most promise, has stagnated.  It lost a few leaves (not unexpected, considering the transplant), and the top of its “trunk” blackened; the leaves it still possesses, though large and bug-free, hang limp and hapless.  It doesn’t change much from day to day, or even react to the sun as it passes overhead.
Interestingly enough, the smallest one (“Specimen C”), from the very beginning, has been the most courageous, the most curious, the most acutely inspirational.
Standing only about a foot high, this unremarkable twig bore about four leaves, or at least what was left of them, when Tina brought it to our house.  (The insects must have thought this one was particularly delicious.)  Once Paul put it in the ground, every morning, without fail, this pitiful young tree would stretch to its full 12 inches and bend its hole-laden leaves toward the burning ball of gas as it crossed the sky.  Every time I looked at it, I could just hear it urgently crying out in its squeaky little botanical voice,
“I’m trying!”
It made me laugh, that little stick.  By late afternoon, it was always sagging, exhausted, beaten down by the tropical sun.  But the next morning it would stretch again, attempting everything within its power to regain full health.
Despite its best efforts, however, its leaves dropped off one by one until there was just one left, hanging precariously near the top of the stick.
The day I saw Evan and his friends playing in the yard near the little tree, I didn’t think much of it.  Evan knows how badly his daddy wants the avocados to grow.  He wouldn’t do anything to hurt them.  His friend, Michael, however, wasn’t aware of the importance of this little tree.
In fact, he wasn’t even aware it WAS a little tree.
The boys were playing barefoot, in appropriate PNG fashion, and at one point Michael walked over to the “stick” and put his toes around it.
“Oh, Michael, be careful!  Don’t do that.  That’s Mr. Paul’s ….”
Even as he looked at me as if to figure out what I could possibly be getting onto him about, his toes, still gripping the feeble trunk, swept up and off the top of the tree … taking the last remaining leaf with them.
“… that was Mr. Paul’s tree.”   *sigh*
We didn’t know if a stick with no leaves would grow … it could get water, yes, but photosynthesis was now out of the question.  Yet, having observed that this tree was a fighter, we left it there to see what would happen.
Within days there were leaf buds, and now, a few weeks later, that little trooper has eighteen leaves – none of which have any insect damage.
As I was trying to figure out how to graciously and discretely re-enter the blogging arena, this saga caught my attention.  Because I feel like an avocado tree.  Or, I should say, over the nineteen months we have been in PNG, I have had times where I felt like each of the three specimens.
Occasionally I have been Specimen B … refusing to engage with the soil and water around me.  Choosing instead to be alone and lonely.  Only Grace kept me from blackening and wilting to nothingness during those times.
At other times, I have been Specimen A.  Pretty healthy when I arrived, but in some ways wishing I was still “back home.”  Only minimally engaged with my surroundings.  Stagnating.  Not dead, but not truly living either.  Droopy, pathetic.
I have considered my one-year absence from blogging from many angles, wondering why I have gone twelve months without investing in the art of creative writing.  Finally, yesterday, it dawned on me … at POC, I had no way to find out about friends back home, I had very little contact with family and loved ones stateside.  Over the few months following our move to the highlands, however, I realized the accessibility of Facebook.  Suddenly I was a part of things back home again, more or less.  I think that for most of the last year, I have been only nominally engaged with my immediate surroundings, at least emotionally.   Instead of insightfully putting into words snippets of life here, I have instead tried to live vicariously through the comments of people back home: who’s having a baby, who’s sick, funny things your kids have said, politics, quips that cleverly personify inanimate objects, Snowmageddon 2011, and the like.  I have frequently experienced a desperation to know what is going on back home, to feel connected, and have chosen to mindlessly read the status updates of a few hundred friends rather than invest what it takes to capture pieces of my life here in words for the many who will never experience this life, or at least for the few who care.
But, after watching this perennial woody plant fight its way through difficult (and, at times, seemingly impossible) circumstances, I now realize that I want to be more like him - not losing sight of where I’ve come from, and yet, fully engaging the soil and water around me.  Stretching my leaves to their full potential every day and soaking in the sun.
So, that said, after a year hiatus, I am going to do my best to spend less time on Facebook (missing everyone,  wishing I was back home, feeling left out, jealous of the snowstorms you’d rather not be having), and more time with my word processor, sharing pieces of my life in Papua New Guinea with you.


  1. Sharon, you do have a way with words. What an intriguing story, especially how you applied it to your life. I pray that you (and the little tree) grow full and healthy, bear fruit where you are planted, and nourish those around you. I have missed reading your blog posts, and look forward to more in the future. Praying for you...

  2. Well....what Barb said. I have missed your wonderful, thoughtful blog posts and will look forward to seeing more of you soon.


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