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Essays by Karen Anderson: Christmas Cactus

Illustration by Kacie Brown

The ancient Christmas Cactus on my table almost went in the compost a few months ago. Shriveled and gray, it looked unhealthy and unhappy and no wonder. There were little teeth marks at the end of each branch from encounters with the cat.

But I’d had too many losses lately, too much sadness. So I moved the Cactus to a sunnier window and delayed the hard decision.

Weeks went by, months maybe, and I kept watering the cactus, talking to it. And instead of dying, the Cactus slowly turned green again. Tiny new leaves appeared at the end of each damaged branch. And I wondered if I was capable of that kind of renewal?

It wasn’t just about sunshine and water, of course. It was the not-giving-up, the plant’s and mine. The attention, given and returned. I don’t know whether my talking helped the Cactus; I know it helped me.

A counselor cautioned me against seeking some grand all-purpose purpose for my life. Instead, she said, “Find a reason to commit to this day.”

Checking on the Cactus was one reason. In all the years I’ve had the plant, it has never blossomed on Christmas, but there’s still time.

Karen Anderson contributes "Essays by Karen Anderson" to Interlochen Public Radio.