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I admit being fascinated by small things in my life that manage to reveal larger patterns. In my humble home, I find myself surrounded by Christmas cacti. Each began as a simple shoot that I placed in a cup with a bit of water; I watched it root; I planted it in soil and watched it spread. My largest plant is just about 3 feet wide and the smallest one, a single leaf just beginning to push out a root. I love my plants… and yes, I talk to them.

I rotate them regularly to help them get equal exposure to the light and I provide them with food mixed in with the water. I groom them and encourage them to blossom… something I have not been able to get them to do because my apartment is fairly dark. My Happy Light keeps them healthy, but no blossoms… yet.

Lately, I have been puzzling over a simple question: How do my plants decide where the next sprig will sprout? How does it decide whether there will be one leaf or two emerging from the tip? At first that sounds like a simple matter of chance, but over time the plant has a fairly circular shape. Is it merely haphazard or is there an internal plan at work? Is it only about light? What about symmetry? When does a plant decide that it needs a woody trunk on otherwise leafy stems?

What my plants teach me is how society works. On all levels of society, we begin humbly as if we are shoots. Each of us is a stem that—given the proper exposure—will grow, multiply and develop in a pattern unique and yet the same. The giant Sequoia is not that different from my humble cactus. Our family units are not that different from a country such as the United States of America. On all levels, we have roots to anchor us, stumps to keep us strong, branches to direct our growth and leaves to capture the light and keep us healthy. New growth does not occur on the woody stumps, but at the very tips of the branches.

When I water my plants, I also move them 5º or 10º so they do not grow stagnant. When they get too big for the pot, I replant them in a bigger planter. When some little shoot dries up, I remove it. I love my plants because they are living companions.

When I expand my vision beyond my apartment, I see a parallel in my country. The closer it gets to the founding constitution the more rigid it becomes because that has to support the entire nation. The branches are the fifty states that grow from the trunk, but each blossom with some variation because of its location on the plant. When I see the leafy growth, I also see all the local governments that provide the dynamics where evolution happens. When flowers form, I see explosions of celebration that also permit cross-fertilization. The pollination finds its way back to the roots where it sends signals that somehow affect the entire plant. New growth occurs at the tips, not at the trunk… but—unseen by all—the root system continues to develop as well to support the entire plant.

I hardly need to spell it all out. Our levels of government all have a role to play as part of the whole nation. Each part is essential. Each part acts in relation to the entire plant. When one branch gets out of control, it cracks and break in the wind or other time of crisis.

Today, our nation appears in crisis. The roles of the separate parts seem confused and out of order. Some branches seem to get all the light while others do not have enough light to sustain them. The root systems are crying out for repotting to allow the plant to remain strong. When the plant undergoes such stress, it will not flower. Without flowers, it will not reproduce in a healthy manner. Without flowers, most plants and trees will not bear fruit.

Granted, there are times when the entire plant seems challenged. Sometimes weeds spring up sucking nutrients away from the plant for their own growth. The analogy can go on and on… More importantly, each of us, as individuals has a role to play—an essential role in the life of the plant. We are not only leaves, we are LEAVES where light is turned into food that feeds the entire plant. Roots seep in minerals from the soil and strengthen the plant as well. All of it is organic—a word meaning a living being, behaving as it should.

My Christmas cactus is not really a cactus, by the way, it is a succulent! It has a great capacity to store nutrients in tough times. The same is true of our country. In challenging times, we have the ability to store up good will and to distribute it when needed. None of us is alone. As John Donne wrote so beautifully…

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

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