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Deadheading

As much as I love my summer garden, I abhor how straggly and unkempt certain flowers can become – ahem, petunias, I’m talking to you. I also detest the very act that prevents them from becoming leggy: the process of deadheading.

My mom and I always lamented the weariness of summer flowers when autumn hits. She, like me, was a lazy gardener—didn’t want to spend time plucking old, spent blooms. I distinctly remember one summer day answering her phone call and to her trademark, “Whatcha doing?” I replied, “Deadheading.” “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. To us, deadheading was a little bit like dusting: What was the point when it would just be needed again? And yet, year after year, we both planted petunias in April—brilliant and full of life—only to be so tired of them come summer’s end.

In many ways, my life recently has felt like a petunia garden in need of a good pruning. I find myself in the company of people whose attitudes and outlooks cause me to wilt, who make me question whether people are still inherently good, make me question my faith and my capacity for optimism. They sometimes feel like weeds in my emotional garden, but humans are not flowers and so I ask: can you/should you “prune” your circle of friends?

I’ve posed that question to several people lately and found a resounding chorus of Yeses. But although it’s easy for me to accept that an occasional paring down of the proverbial Rolodex is healthy, I’m not just talking about fringe friends—those people whom you friended on Facebook with less thought than what you ate for lunch. I’m not referring to the peripheral network of humans which we all have: those people who, if you dropped dead, would say, “Hey, I think I knew her but can’t remember how.”

No, I’m talking about people whom I’ve loved for years—some for my whole life. These are people who have suddenly, through their words, their actions, their inactions, revealed to me a darkness that shadows my soul’s garden. They are not hateful but tolerate hate; they are not judgmental yet support judgementalism; they are not stupid yet disavow facts. They are not atheists yet their beliefs seem so contrary to my Christian beliefs. I find myself wondering how important it is that our worldviews, our values, parallel those of our friends. And if I prune my metaphorical garden down to only those who believe and act like me, won’t I fall victim to the same small mindedness that I despise in others? Won’t I be placing myself inside a hypocritical bubble, buffered from thoughts and opinions that aren’t my own?

And so you can see my dilemma.

On my early morning walk today, I paused to deadhead some petunias and then, sighing, turned my gaze to the vincas. Here’s the thing about vincas: They grow and fan out with very little attention. It’s as if an internal happiness just spills out of them and their blooms remain magnificent throughout the season. They are always there when your eyes need to feast on beauty. Unlike my petunias that become leggy and spent, casting shadows and causing me stress, vincas make me happy. So should I only plant vincas? Should I give up on the petunias that have been part of my life for so long?

One cool, gloomy evening recently I dashed through the drizzle into a sandwich shop to buy our dinner. After placing our order at the counter, I realized that, despite having three masks in my car, despite wearing a mask off and on all day at work, I had forgotten to wear one into the store. I pulled my knit top up around my nose and mouth and apologized profusely. To my surprise, the girl slicing turkey who, as it turns out, was in her ninth hour on her feet, said, “That’s ok. At least you didn’t cuss us out for requiring masks.” It seems she and her co-workers have been habitually yelled at and cursed, and that it has become a regular task to replace the Mask Required sign on the door, as irate customers pull it down.

My interaction with that girl flipped a switch in me and made me feel that enough is enough. When did it become okay to act with such vitriol? When did we stop being human to each other? And why is complacency ok?

How did we get to this place?

In quite a few relationships these days I’m struggling to love the person even while I detest the perspective. I’m struggling to look aside, to foresee a future without rancor and discord. And so I ask: Do love and respect have to co-exist? How do you continue a relationship with people whose actions and inactions are contrary to everything you believe in? And if we only plant vincas—vibrant and easy—can they ever fill the holes in our hearts left by the tiresome petunias?

I have no answers—only the painful posing of the question.

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