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keep watering - proof from a plant that we shouldn't give up

This is my after photo (so far) of our hibiscus plant.

It never crossed my mind to take a before photo. So you'll have to take my word for it. Last spring, its leaves were shriveled, and its roots and branches showed zero signs of life.

Hibiscuses grow great in Hawaii. But not so great in NorCal. By the middle of April, I was ready to give up on it.

I was going to yank it up and toss it out. I figured I could use its pot to start over with something new, fresh and hardier. Something that could withstand the chilly Bay Area nights.

But, because of Lena, I didn't. I trimmed its dead leaves and decrepit branches. Then I watered it. And watered it. And watered it.


Lena was 15 when she was in my world history class. When she 16, she was my teacher's assistant. Now 20 and wise beyond her years, I admire her for her willingness to take the less-traveled path. Unlike most of her classmates, Lena worked her way through high school (mostly doing grunt work at restaurants).

During her senior year, she enrolled in the Ohlone College Connection program, then continued on at Ohlone, a public community college, until she was able work her way into the University of San Francisco where she's majoring in hospitality studies.

Lena makes sure we never lose touch. It's a blessing that she's still a part of my life. And now, instead of me teaching her, she's teaching me.

A few weeks ago, she asked if I would write this for her - in cursive:

It's Lena's life maxim. She wanted to get a tattoo of it - in my handwriting.

I was honored but nervous. My handwriting sucks. It took my best focus (and multiple tries), but I still wasn't sure she'd go through with it.

She did.

Ever since, I've been more and more attuned to how relevant and important those two words have become in my life and, really, all of our lives.

For Lena, it's about keeping her relationships (not necessarily romantic ones) alive.

"Keep watering even if your ego and pride doesn't want you to... Sometimes our ego and pride gets in the way of us trying to do more - letting people know how you feel about them, etc.

But you have to put your ego away and keep watering.

Maybe the outcome won't be what you want it to be,

but you can know you gave it your all."

After Lena shared this with me, I reached out to three people who I had been waiting to reach out to me. After each "reach," I was so glad I did! She's right. Ego and pride keep us from going first. It's so stupid and harmful to submit to their power.

As she points out, not every dormant relationship (or plant) can be coaxed back to vibrancy, but if we keep watering, there's a chance.

The beauty of keep watering is that beyond plants and relationships, it applies to all kinds of dreams. For me, it's about finding readers for my writing.

From listening to other writers, I've learned not to write to please an audience. I should write because I have something to say, even if hardly anyone reads it. Even if nobody reads it, I should write when I feel the call to write.

I get that. But still, we know what we want.

When I first began watering our moribund hibiscus, there was no noticeable change. No perceptible improvement. It took time, (shaky) faith and consistent action before there were even the slightest signs of life.

So, Lena, thanks to you, I'll keep writing. I'll keep watering my dream.

What relationship of yours needs watering? What dream of yours needs watering? Let's talk about it.

Lena Phan

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