“Plants do for you what shoes do for me,” says my wife.

I wouldn’t call myself a gardener. I don’t study plant life beyond what I’ve planted. I have no need to memorize horticultural identities. When healthy, plants seem to be at ease with what they are. They don’t need me to remind them. If I like their appearance, they stick around. Otherwise, there’s always more at any given nursery. I guess I view the plants in my garden as pets in a detached sort of way. They serve no purpose, but I need to have them around.

Plants are no more adaptable than humans. They seek what’s most comfortable whether it’s flowering under a high noon sun or tucked in the shade of a fuchsia. They know what they like and don’t do well with change. Plants are like cats. They’re fiercely independent. Just provide water and a familiar home, and they’re yours. We can have a change of heart and come closer to another’s point of view. Plants could care less.

At least they don’t discriminate. Genus and gender mean nothing to plants. They’ve mastered propagation without needing to know their mates. They go about their business without any care for what others are doing. Is this the detachment of oneness that mystics write about?

My patio is my place of indiscriminate worship. I find a comfortable spot and swim in the silence. My eyes attend to the variegations of green and creamy white, the red tipped spindly leaves, the blood red petunias, and snow-topped alyssum. I try to slip into the carefree existence of greenery. Although, it’s hard enough just to emulate the ivy’s contentment.

Yes, I guess plants do for me as shoes do for my wife. She’s elated each time she steps comfortably into an exceptionally stylish pair. They reflect her refined taste. I find my reflection in our garden. Its serenity is what I want to be.

Self Portrait

I’ve never paid much attention to obituaries, or as the San Leandro Times refers to them “Local Deaths,” but this one captured my curiosity:

Manual “Pop” Sotelo – October 1, 1924 to August 8, 2017. His commemoration begins, “What is a life? Our father would say that it’s the way you lived, and treated others.” In my opinion, that pretty much sums it up for Pop. But the author goes on to list that Pop was a decorated soldier, native of Oakland, and was dedicated to the home team A’s. He and his wife Sandy produced nine children who in turn produced even more children. Pop’s and Sandy’s legacy is the clan they created.

Obituaries attempt the impossible. Summing up one’s life at any stage is equally impossible. Very few of us can write a memoir. Even fewer think that it’s necessary. Most of us are content floating in the current moment, like fish facing upstream to feed on one tidbit of experience after another. Writing one’s own obituary in itself is impossible, assuming that you’ve waited for the last moment in order to capture the entire final scene.

Pop died at ninety-three. Needless to say, a lot can happen in ninety-three years. We’re left not knowing how the war affected Pop. We can guess that he was dedicated to fighting for the freedom of future generations. I would bet that his valor ennobled his aspirations. I would also suspect that for Pop, church and state went hand-in-hand with family. Being loyal probably came naturally.

Surviving battle can define a life. The love of country or family can provide definition as well. Is there something that defines you? Can you look at yourself and think, “If it wasn’t for (fill in the blank) I’d be different today.” For good or bad, we all have at least one episode that caused a shift in our sensibilities or beliefs. Take the time to name one for yourself. Consider how your life changed. Paint your self-portrait whether it’s real or imaginary. Let others know the inner you before reaching the final milestone.

I’m telling you my story. Go ahead and tell yours.