Last week I wrote about a change challenge: specifically, the struggle to take action and change out the dying pansies in the flower boxes.  This weekend, I finally did the deed.  It wasn’t as hard as I thought and it didn’t take as long as I feared.  Nonetheless, I felt sad even as I pulled out the yellowing leaves and gone-to-seed flower stalks.  While I had managed to overcome the inertia induced by comfort, familiarity and connection with the past (see last blog), I now encountered other resistances.  Pulling out the dying plants somehow felt like ingratitude.  After all, these seemingly frail materials had stood up to scorching sun, violent winds and summer hailstorms and had put on a spectacular display for months.  While laughingly chiding myself for my sentimental relationship with cellulose and chlorophyll, I also had an insight about what is often a major (and unrecognized) stumbling block to taking the actions needed to make change.  Every change, however beneficial, necessary or potentially productive it may be, threatens some relationship.   

 

Sometimes, the relationship threat is obvious.  When I’m coaching a client who wants to confront his business colleague about questionable decisions or who is avoiding giving an unfavorable performance review, the professional relationship is obviously on the table.  Often, though, the threatened relationship is less clear.  Sometimes a person needs to reinvent the relationship with the person he used to be (the thirty-year old guy seeing a fifty plus man in the mirror); or with an internalized parent, teacher or role model.  These internal relationships are just as real and powerful, and just as easily threatened, as external ones.

 

We are connected creatures. Relationships help us define ourselves.  Because of my parents, I am a daughter; because of me (and my siblings), my parents are parents.  If Jack is the big bad boss, Joe is a little meek underling (or a rebel with a cause or however he casts himself).  Our relationships make space and issue the invitation for our best and worst selves to appear. When a relationship is built on caring and trust, my trusting and caring self is called into action.  In relationships built on mutual respect and shared scholarly interests, my research colleagues and I encourage and nurture each other’s curiosity and inquiring spirits.

 

Yet even the best relationships share something in common with the plants in my balcony garden.  None is immutable and none remains unchanged over time. Some relationships are like annuals, destined for the duration of a class or a contract. Some are perennial but even these change shape, extend roots and adapt to shifting climates.

 

Back to the pansies.  These are annuals whose time has come.  Letting them fully run their natural course means watering them even as they wither and die.  A cigarette butt tossed carelessly from a higher balcony can spark a fire (don’t ask- it’s happened here in the parched season).  Worse yet, I will still lose what I fear losing- the comfort and familiarity of their friendly little pansy faces.  I chose to cut short the inevitable and pull them out.  They’re now replaced by fresh plants, material which is ready to last well into autumn and perhaps winter. As I pull up each plant, I offer some words of appreciation. A few blooms have been pressed in the pages of a book.  My grandmother’s memory has been honored for another year, a relationship that transcends past and present, life and death, reinvented with each planting.  

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