While March saw Ireland looking with wonder at the largest snow storm in decades, April and May have seen Galway flaunting daffodils and tiny white flowers and producing shades of airy greens as sunlight scatters through the trees that would leave any painter (or any rushed masters student hurrying to campus) suddenly, inescapably in awe. Some of my earliest memories involve gardening and watering house plants with my mother and grandmother, and my love of plants always reminds me of them. Any of the Mitchell Scholars who were with me in the gardens around Blarney Castle, or near the mosses close to Giants Causeway, will tell you that I am constantly pointing out plants.
It came as no surprise then when the first addition to my room in Galway was a small bonsai tree. As my mom took care of my bonsai from college in the states, I gave her updates about my new one as we grew together into our Galway home. Over Christmas, those updates switched from FaceTime to face-to-face time as I went home for the holidays – a trip that restored me but brought draught and panic to my Galway tree. Unfortunately, as I returned to Ireland, I found myself also struggling with several health issues, some new, some old and exacerbated. Prohibited from fencing, sleeping more than ever, and nearly always exhausted, I was suddenly spending a great deal more time in my room. Looking over towards my plants, I remember holding my breath as I scratched a small area of bark on my bonsai’s trunk – still green, still alive, just in need of care. I continued to regularly fill her water basin underneath (fun fact – always water bonsais from underneath), to spritz her with water, to tell her she was doing the best she could (unproven fun fact – always tell your plants they look beautiful and are doing great).
Although I continued to require much rest, I often pushed myself too far, failing to acknowledge my own needs and limitations. I was incredibly frustrated that I seemed to be making little progress, not meeting recovery goals when I thought I should. I was encouraged to go to mindfulness sessions at the university, and I soon found my (literal and figurative) head in the hands of Martina, my mindfulness therapist, listening as she repeated advice about accepting the state of things as they are; about allowance, openness, and softness. She challenged me often to accept my current conditions, my natural pace, and that progress could be made even when it wasn’t apparent. Meanwhile, she also taught me about the power of compassion, asking for help, and allowing others to assist. Just this past week, my bonsai tree began to show signs that she may regrow leaves. That night, as I drank tea on my balcony looking out at Galway Bay, I reflected on how my time here in the past few months has altered my ideas of strength and care. Just as I continued to care for my tree even when she appeared beyond hope, my fencing team continued to invite me to any events I could partake in, my friends kept checking in and bringing me out, my professors provided help, flexibility, and extended deadlines, my family encouraged me from afar, and I attended mindfulness sessions and doctor appointments. Standing on my balcony, I realized how all of those things had quietly fostered recovery even when the progress had been unrecognizably slow – for my bonsai tree but also for me.
Sometimes the test of strength isn’t pushing beyond limits to accomplish everything perfectly and as quickly as possible. Sometimes it’s care even when care is the hardest to give, when conditions are bleak, when the roots seem dry. Sometimes it’s continuing even when growth isn’t recognizable for months. Sometimes it’s allowing others to shower you in empathy, love, and kindness as you grow into yourself again. And I am forever grateful to have received these Irish showers that I hope will bring about many new flowers.