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The Cactus and the Jade

by Janet Hammock, June 21st 2019

Five years ago when the Sackville United Church moved to its new home in the former Town Hall, Anne planted a small cactus and tiny jade side by side in a long green china planter and brought it to the church as a decoration.

The cactus and jade were happy as two peas in a pod. They looked good together and had lots of room to grow and prosper. They thrived on the windowsill where Anne placed them because it was warm and sunny. Very very slowly, the cactus and jade grew.

After a while, however, the churchgoers ceased to notice them.

The only time the cactus was noticed was when a small child, attracted by its spiny surface, reached up to touch and was painfully pricked.

After their tears had ceased, someone always said “We have to get that cactus out of the church. It is too dangerous for the children.” But no one ever did. Instead, the cactus and jade were moved to the Quiet Room off the Sanctuary where children rarely went, and sat on the windowsill in their long green pot, apart from all the activities, singing and playing. Sometimes the caretaker watered them but they often became bone-dry and were largely forgotten.

“Someone’s got to take this cactus away!” said Anne one morning following a Quiet Room book study meeting. “Will anyone offer?” Janet spoke up. “Sure, I’ll take it. I am learning to grow cacti and maybe I can do something with it.”

By now the unhappy plants were singularly unattractive. The cactus had grown so big that it seemed to be pushing the jade out of the pot. It was almost impossible to see the jade because the great barrel belly of the cactus had grown so fat. Furthermore, because the planter was very shallow and narrow, the cactus had grown sideways and filled the length of the planter. It looked as if it were lying down. The scraggly jade peeked over the side of the cactus and was slowly being choked to death by the great prickly beast. Despite these abject conditions that all could clearly see, the neglect continued. Janet forgot to take it home.

Many Sundays later, Anne carried the cactus and jade to Janet after church and asked “Are you still willing to take this home? It needs to go – now!”

Janet carried the heavy planter to her car and drove home. She wondered where to put it, and how and when she ought to transplant it. “Maybe I’ll just ‘let it be’ for a while – let it get used to its new surroundings.” She placed the cactus and jade planter on the middle shelf of the Welsh Dresser where it would get good light but no direct sunshine.

The cactus and jade languished together for several more months, but things were a little better. At least they were being watered more regularly.

One day Janet noticed that the cactus was bulging more noticeably out of the planter, lying awkwardly on its side. The jade leaves were losing their succulent juiciness and many had dropped off leaving the stems bare and barren-looking. She realized that the time had come to re-pot these two intrepid survivors, but she had no idea how to go about it. How did one handle such a big cactus? How big a pot should she get? Was the scraggly jade even worth trying to save? Her questions needed answers.

Janet photographed the cactus and jade and showed them to Haidee at Blooms, a lovely flower and plant shop in downtown Sackville. She asked if Haidee would agree to re-pot them for her, and Haidee was quick to say yes. Together, she and Janet found attractive pots for both plants and Haidee said “Leave them with me. I’ll call when they are ready.”

A week later Janet was called back to the shop to pick up the plants. Haidee carried the jade out from the back of the store, and Janet gasped. How beautiful it looked! They had chosen a perfect pot for the jade, all knobbly, Asian in feel, and the jade looked almost like a bonsai with its jaunty bare stems and dark green leaves. Then out came the cactus. The pot they had selected for it was a dusky, matt green — a smooth pear shape that Haidee believed would echo the shape of the cactus. The large cactus was still leaning, but it was no longer lying horizontal on its side. It had been replanted at an angle and was supported by two metal spikes.

“We can’t plant the cactus upright yet,” explained Haidee. “It would be too great a transition. The plant would stand little chance of surviving. We’ll have to gradually reposition it to cause the least stress. This cactus has endured a great trauma in the old planter as well as in the re-potting process and needs to rest. I’d like you to bring it back in 2 or 3 months and I will do another re-potting. Hopefully at that time it will be possible to help the cactus to stand fully upright. ”

Janet was amazed at the beauty and healthiness of the cactus. It seemed a miracle to her that this plant could look so good after enduring such neglect.

“And take a look at this!” exclaimed Haidee. She walked towards Janet, holding the old green china planter in her hands. “Look how the cactus bowed the sides of the planter!” It was incredible. As it grew, the cactus had exerted continual, immense pressure on the sides of the planter. The planter bulged out on both sides. Janet stared at it in amazement and disbelief.

Gently, she carried the survivors to the car and drove them home. She placed them on the sideboard in the dining room where they look beautiful next to the spectacular glass and cedar wall art piece of Rose Leonard.

Although they had been neglected, forgotten and abused, these plants never lost their desire to live. They survived. Finally we noticed, and took the necessary steps to help by moving them where they would be nurtured. They were given new pots and the possibility of new, healthy lives.

These plants — the cactus and the jade — may remind us of Rose, the refugee from Uganda, who will soon be transplanted into our midst in Sackville. Coming from a dangerous situation, where the possibility of growing in a healthy way and having a full and positive life was impossible, Rose comes to us fragile, abused. Yet she has shown such strength, such resiliency, such a desire to live! Like the cactus and the jade, we will gently “re-pot” Rose, and allow her all the time she needs to rest, to get used to her new surroundings, to settle into her new life. With “care and watering”, with just the right amount of shade and sun, and with love, we pray that the cactus, the jade, and the Rose will grow fully into themselves in their new homes.

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