The Curious Case of Benjamin Money Tree

Back in November of 2014, I posted a picture of Benjamin, my money tree, on my Facebook page.

Benjamin Nov2014 20170304_204417
Benjamin in November 2014

I was sad that one of Benjamin’s five braided plants had died, but the sadness had soon turned to excitement when I realized that the remaining four plants were sprouting new leaves and thriving. It prompted a moment of reflection for me, reminding me of the different cycles of life and the old making way for the new.

Over two years later, in March 2017, I was sad to find that Benjamin was not doing too well again. Two of the four remaining plants in the braid had died, and the last two were completely bare except for a few weak leaves on the top.

Benjamin 20170304_143810
Benjamin in March 2017.

A few months ago, I had changed the soil and moved Benjamin to a larger pot thinking that it would rejuvenate him, but he didn’t respond well to the change and showed a steady decline in health ever since. =(

As I sat there pondering what to do next, I was reminded of another money tree I had many years ago. My dad had given it to me as a gift when I started law school. It did well for a while, then started drying up even though I was watering it diligently. As one of the rare gifts I received from my dad, I didn’t want to give up on it, so as a last resort I took it to a nearby nursery where a really nice guy helped me out. It turned out that the plant’s roots had been encased in a small plastic box inside the pot, so the roots were hardly getting any water. Once the plastic was removed, the plant sprang back to life almost in a matter of days.

The first lesson I’m learning is that I apparently do not have much of a green thumb.

The second more important lesson is one about perspective, and also attachment; I used to make fun of people who obsess about their pets and usher them around in strollers like they were babies, but now there I was obsessing about a plant (again)!

Once we humans decide we care about something, the attachment that we sometimes develop can warp our perceptions and distort the importance that something or someone has relative to the rest of our lives or the world. Sure, every single life is precious, whether it’s a sentient animal or a plant, but every life will also eventually end. It’s foolish to glorify any single life beyond proportion, and futile to cling onto it in the face of death.

All this to say that maybe my beloved Benjamin’s time had come, and I should let him go in peace. But part of me still said I should keep trying to save him like I did with the other plant. So I gave Benjamin a lot of love and attention, but alas it was time for him to go after all, and I resigned to putting his limp remains into the trash can a few weeks later.

I had actually started writing this blog post around March 2017 shortly before Benjamin died. Circling back to this now, the question I wanted to ask remains the same – in these moments where something or someone seems to be dying, when should we keep pushing and fighting for life, and when should we surrender to death with grace?

Thankfully, Benjamin was ‘just’ a house plant, but the question becomes much harder when a human being is involved. My grandmother, for instance, is in her late 80s and has had Alzheimers for about 7-8 years now. She has lived in a hospice for many years and can barely speak a full sentence or recognize her family members. Yet, her body has been kept alive all these years by an extensive regimen of medication and treatments, all while her mind wastes away. As her granddaughter, of course I understand the desire to keep her alive as long as possible, but I seriously question Western medicine’s tendency to try to keep a body alive at all costs – costs, both financial and emotional, which are borne by her not-so-well-to-do grown children.

A very controversial and emotionally charged situation, indeed.

With a living being, at least there is the eventual finality and certainty of death, however long it may take to arrive. But what about other less certain deaths, like the death of a career or a relationship? How do we know when there is still a seed of hope and we should keep fighting to save or, or when all possibilities have died and we should move on?

I suppose this just boils down to the age-old question of fate versus free will. Paradoxically, I believe both in the fateful flow of this universe as well as our own power to direct it.  With Benjamin, the universe drew him into my life, and with my love and care his life waxed and waned, before finally succumbing to the universal call of death (for it truly is universal). It is both true that I affected and directed his life, and that the universe had him die at the destined time. It is a dance between what can be, what must be, and what is.

Seven months later, I look back at Benjamin’s life and my decision to accept his demise and put his dying body in the trash can. How many more living beings, relationships, projects, and dreams will I have to let go of in my lifetime?

I guess I won’t know until my dance with the universe is done.