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.

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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.

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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.

“Truth” and other lies

A while ago, I was listening to a discussion on NPR about the Trump administration and its drive to ‘win’ at all costs, including at the cost of things like decency, morality, and the truth. I agree with the speaker’s assessment; Trump is a master of manipulating the public and the media, and he and his co-horts will do anything to “win.” And to that end the lies flow out of him and his administration so quickly and rapidly that it’s hard to keep up.

The lie, or rather lies, at that particular moment were: “there were no meetings with Russians… okay there was, but there was no discussion of the election… okay there was, but there was no collusion… okay well what’s so wrong with collusion?”

Some of those who support Trump are equally willing to go to any lengths to defend him. They condemn liberal media for wanting to attack Trump, and any kind of criticism or judgment levied against Trump is a flat out lie or biased partisan attempt to bring Trump down. Every new event or statement coming out of the White House triggers another tussle between the right and left over the real version of what happened, the real version of the “Truth.”

Full disclosure, I am a Democrat and a liberal, and I get most of my news from NY Times and CNN. For many reasons which I won’t get into here, I align with the left more. But this post isn’t about the left versus the right; rather it’s about the supposed monopoly over the truth that both sides claim to have.

The liberal media has certainly made mistakes as well, and I am not saying that the left is always right and that the right is always wrong (and that wrong is always right? =P) I try my best to stay mindful of my own biases; I even downloaded the Fox News app on my phone so I can periodically listen to ‘the other side’ to get a reality check.

There are certain facts that are pretty much irrefutable by intelligent, reasonable people (like the law of gravity), but I think such facts are actually very limited. Most ‘facts’ in life are highly subjective and contextual, and it’s difficult to come to a real consensus about the Truth.

Whenever there are conflicting views or claims on the Truth, there are usually at least some facts or beliefs that the different sides agree on, and I think we should focus on those in order to start working towards a compromise. The way I see it, it’s like a Venn diagram; there is my truth, and there is the other’s truth, but there is a core Truth that is shared by both, and by starting from there we could perhaps even expand that shared ground and reconcile our different truths.  That is assuming, of course, that both sides are willing to cooperate.

So that was my philosophical musing on the topic of the truth. To conclude, I will leave you with this little mind twister:

Everything I say is a lie.