a sunburned leaf
and a call to prune relentlessly
Today I caught myself whispering to my old jade tree.
“Trust me,” I told him, taking a moment to twist off a sunburned leaf. “Trust me: this is a chance to grow.”
From that wound it starts. Dormant cells poised for opportunity spring into action at the first inkling of attack or exposure. Growth points. They’re part of the architecture, spaced strategically along the stem of a healthy plant—opportunists, all of them. Cells ready to shift into something entirely new if the need arises.
But there’s a catch.
You need a clean break. No leaving baggage or bits of leaf behind. Even a tiny fragment of torn-off leaf tissue could keep the scar from scabbing over, dirtying the clean slate that the growth point needs. A jagged edge is a doorway for infections, not new branches.
I took my thumbnail, scraped the last smidge of leaf tissue from the stem—tidy. From it (if I wait, if I watch, if I hold my breath and remember to water it) there could be branches, a new awakening of dormant cells, fresh purpose. An entirely different shape.
I’m no expert, but pruning is fundamental to bonsai, to gardening, to keeping growth from veering into unfettered chaos. You want another crop of raspberries next year? Better make sure you cut back the old canes. Want flowers on your rose bushes? Cut them back. Want a rounder tree, a perfectly formed hedge, more mint for your mojitos or basil for your pasta? Cut it back.
It’s hard; it’s hard to be ruthless. Is it right to hinder today’s momentum in pursuit of tomorrow’s purer vision?
I said, “Thank you” to the sunburned leaf, with its withered spot in the center like a call to a treasure hunt.
I said, “I’m sorry” as I dropped it in the trash, apologizing for leaving it on the porch where it caught a stray ray of sun.
It’s loss, loss again. Constant, inevitable, aching loss. Picturing only what is absent, missing the possibility. A Dutch angle, canted, insensible. I don’t think about the pruning, trimming, honing that shifts the shape of my own life—not often enough. I certainly fail to thank the hand that prunes. There is a plan, isn’t there? Maybe I can’t see my own withered spots—maybe I can’t see how the lack is killing me, keeping me from growing in shapes and forms I never could have foreseen.
As I sat back down at my desk, I saw it again. Time. Passing. Right in front of me. The acute awareness of the coursing of the sun from left to right through the branches of the maple tree outside my window (now dropping pollen like a baker sifts confectioner’s sugar onto a cake).
The maple serves as my personal sundial, asking, “What did you do today?”
And I can say:
I pulled a leaf from the jade tree.
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