Coming home from a one-time, month-long job posting with an international humanitarian organization that has a team deployed in a conflict area, I found myself staring at two pots with dead plants among a row of previously happy looking greens.
I stayed there for a while wondering how they died. My plants are the kinds that don't need watering even for a week. I guessed my neighbor or the cleaners in the apartment must have drowned them unintentionally as I asked them to look after the plants while I was gone. I failed to specify however, that they didn’t need daily watering.
I felt sad because plants don’t die on me. It's because I grew up believing I have a green thumb or a knack for growing and making plants alive and healthy, and I really do. I heard it the first time from my father who believed I inherited it from him, that is, if green thumbs are hereditary and can be passed on to one's offspring.
But I moved on and searched for new plants to care for in a garden and plant shop. I saw one that has tiny violet flowers and another with colored leaves. When I put them in the row of potted plants, they all looked happy together again.
As I continued to write stories from materials and information I gathered from my the short work assignment, and these are about people I encountered, my plant problem looked miniscule when I think of the persons I met and the lives they currently live -- they who fled a war to live somewhere else temporarily.
When people are stranded and prevented from moving forward with their normal lives, isn’t it the worst suffering of all? Losing a plant, or a dog or cat for that matter is a tragic thing, but it doesn’t even measure up to being uprooted from your home that is decimated by bombs and gunfire and seeing your family and loved ones struggle to make sense of what happened.
Each time there is an unfortunate tale of suffering, especially displacement, and these are happening worldwide and are increasing, we often ask a fundamental question – why does human suffering exist? Why do they even come in extreme forms such as violence and death?
In my first days in the conflict area, I was moved by a religious man who said the opening prayer through a painful wail that made people shed tears with him. I asked the person beside me what the prayer and crying meant. She said the prayer leader asked why God gave them problems that they cannot handle, why the difficulties seem insurmountable and why them? How can God permit such atrocities to happen, with them as the unwilling victims?
When I ask questions or complain about life being too harsh, I remember scientific studies that say death and suffering are inescapable and necessary for life and human existence. They happen because they make us hope and have a new life. They give meaning – the rainbow at the end of a storm.
It is a cold explanation but I believe in the part that says people can surpass suffering because they have strength to outdo the difficulties, and that there may be something bigger that awaits them.
There are images that stayed with me of the people I met in the conflict area. I know they could live with what they're experiencing, only that it will take some time. When I remember them, I come to think of my life concerns as inconsequential. To them, life is not as simple as coming home to dead plants.