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Bloom Where You Are Planted

Text by: Christine Pethel

And the day came when the risk (it took) to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
-Anais Nin
In southern Arizona, in a region called the Sonoran Desert, there is a cactus plant known as the "saguaro cactus." This cactus is one of the most memorable species of cacti, recognizable by its tall, long shape and five or more side arms reaching outward and bending up toward the sky. And while it may be a large, foreboding plant appearing to be strong and stable on the outside, on the inside it is actually weak and unbalanced. It can withstand freezes and is able to store great amounts of water, but its major imperfection is that it is extremely limited in where it can grow.

The saguaro cactus is probably the most famous type of cacti. If you were asked to draw a cactus, more than likely, this cactus' shape would be the one you would sketch. It has been synonymously used as a symbol of the "Cowboy & Indian," Southwestern desert of the United States. Many of the states, such as Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico, use its silhouette as a representation of their state in commercials, movies, and logos, even if the product has no connection to southern Arizona where the cactus actually grows. Most would think that, because of its popularity, it would exist in all areas of the desert, but this is not true. Because of its need for a large amount of water, it cannot grow in the hotter, more prevalent parts of the desert located in the previously mentioned desert states. This plant grows nowhere near those states, and if one attempted to plant one near the lower, hotter parts of the desert, it will not thrive and would eventually die.

© Jessica Ceason Photography

Additionally, the saguaro cactus does not transport well. When replanted in a new area, it must be facing the same direction it was moved from and must have its own soil moved with it. It also has a very weak root foundation. As tall as these plants can grow (sometimes up to 50 feet), they may only have as much as three feet of roots underground holding the entire weight of the structure. Not a very strong foundation, by any means. The saguaro must also be planted a certain distance away from other cacti, so plants usually grow far apart. For a plant that looks so hardy and formidable on the outer surface, it is actually very feeble and frail inside and could be blown over very easily.

As a contrast to the saguaro cactus, I have a plant in my house called a "Lucky Bamboo" plant. It does resemble bamboo but is not really bamboo at all; it's actually a member of the lily family. It is a small, green, short-stalked plant, usually only about two-to-four feet tall with lightweight leaves sprouting out from the top. They are usually tied together in a tall vase, or a short bowl, in water with rocks to hold the bundle up. But while it may be small in stature, it is a very resilient plant.

My husband and I bought five small stalks of the "Lucky Bamboo" plant to match our Asian-themed wedding close to five years ago. Since then, we've moved four times, twice to different American states and once across the sea. The climates have changed from hot to cold, dry to wet, yet still, that small, two-foot "Lucky Bamboo" plant always flourishes. It has adapted to every climate we've been in and every change in season. I've sometimes drowned it with too much water, or sometimes forgotten to water it. But still it grows — and grows and grows. It grows new leaves, and drops the old ones. It has gotten taller, and the stalks have even changed their shape, twirling around in circles and sometimes even entwining around each other. Don't let its short height fool you, for underneath its base, it has yards and yards of spiraling root that has wrapped itself around the rocks below. The foundation formed is so solid that if I tried to pull it out, it would bring the rocks, dirt, and water with it. No matter how much I care for it, or how much I ignore it, nothing I do kills its spirit. It is a hardy plant that is adaptable to change.

© Jessica Ceason Photography

I've moved quite a lot in my lifetime, thus I've endured a lot of change. At one point in my late 20's, I counted 14 moves within five years to many parts of the United States. Some would consider it a little ridiculous. I would agree for the most part, because I disliked all the packing, unpacking, lifting, and organizing. But I never disliked the moves because of an aversion to "change." I was used to change, so it didn't bother me much. I actually found myself enjoying it and soon realized how much I appreciated, and loved, learning about so many new things wherever we went. I loved meeting new people and making lifelong friends that I have kept in touch with throughout the years. I began to pride myself on being able to fit in wherever I went and without feeling homesick or unhappy.

So imagine my surprise when I moved overseas and was not ready for the change. The experience, at first, sounded appealing, but the minute I arrived, I was overwhelmed and scared. There was a new language to learn and an entirely different culture. Sure, I had the benefit of the people around me (my husband and the other Americans living here already), but no matter how hard I tried, I just didn't feel like I fit in. The biggest discouragement came when my brother and sister came to visit, and I only knew of a handful of places to take them. I felt like I had wasted their time and was very disappointed in my lack of assimilation to this new place.

Then one night, as I was attending a gathering of some women, I overheard a few of them speaking about how much they disliked it over here. Their biggest complaint was that they missed "Walmart, craft stores, and fast food drive thru's." (For those of you aren't aware of what Walmart is, it is a very inexpensive "one stop shop" store where you can find almost anything you want.) They said they felt chained here, and there weren't as many conveniences, things to do, or people to meet. I started wondering how they could feel this way. This country has all those types of stores. There are also drive thrus, there is just a language barrier. And if anything, there are a myriad of things to do in contrast to possible activities in the United States; so much history in every small town along any road you drive on. A person just needed to get out there and try new things, as scary as it was.

© Jessica Ceason Photography

But my heart sort of dropped. Was I becoming one of them? Was I resisting the change? Was I sad because I longed for home, something very un-like me? It was at that point that I vowed to change. I made a promise to myself that I would find something to do every week that put me out into the community and learn new things. First, I set aside Mondays with my children as "Culture Appreciation Day." Every week, we would go to the grocery store and pick out one new product that we knew nothing about, and we were all going to try it, as well as translate (and learn) what the words on the packaging meant. We were also going to find a new town or a new site to experience — whether it was something small like getting to know what this country's version of a playground was, or taking a bigger excursion by visiting a nearby castle.

I also began asking around. I did know people who had lived here for years and had their own little "card file" of great places to go. Then, with the more people I asked, a flood of information started coming my way that was encouraging and inspiring. I had pages of places to visit, and I was already beginning to fall in love with this new place, just like my normal self would.

It was then that I had the grand idea of offering all this information to many others. Why not give them the same opportunity to enjoy where they are? I started thinking that they might just be unhappy here due to their lack of knowledge of how special a place it was that we lived. I also felt that a handful of them spent a lot of time in their houses and never went out to experience the beautiful sites here were to see. I loved making other people happy, so I hoped this would do the trick.

© Jessica Ceason Photography

So, I spoke with another friend about my idea, and we both decided to start something more organized within our church and called it, "The Out & About Group." Once a month (and sometimes more in the summer), we would go on excursions to local places. We went to restaurants, downtown cities, and small, quaint towns. We took swimming excursions, visited palaces, and walked through forests. And we found things to do that would benefit kids, as well as entire families. If there was a place near enough to visit, it was on our list. Women of all ages and circumstances — from all walks of life — joined us on our excursions. We met many new people, had many great laughs, and made lifelong friends. I was learning so many new things, as well as giving others the same opportunity. I was becoming truly happy.

Change is a constant thing in life. Whether you live in the same house your whole life or move at some point along life's course, change is inevitable. You will either have people move away from you, or you will have to say goodbye to them. The question is, how will you handle this change? Will you resist change like the saguaro cactus, standing alone and away from others' company with a weak foundation so that at any moment you could be blown over? Or will you be strong and resilient like the "Lucky Bamboo" plant, blooming and adapting wherever you go and to whatever change comes your way, entwining yourself with others and making lifelong friends? The "Lucky Bamboo" may be small, but underneath its surface it has a brave and tough spirit, thriving wherever it is planted.