I have this small dark green cactus that sits right outside my door.
Every day when I go outside to check on my turtles, I see it sitting there in its little green pot. Mostly I give it a wide berth.
But when I do go to touch it, whether to water it, move it out of the rain or take it inside when the weather gets cold, this cactus pricks me.
It doesn’t seem to matter how gingerly I try to pick it up – I would swear even its spikes have spikes.
(And this isn’t very nice to say, but I was kind of hoping it would die in the recent way-too-cold spell we had here in Houston.)
After the cold front passed, it was looking mighty droopy, but it didn’t die.
The moment I picked it up to check its roots, I got pricked again.
I had 5 little spikes in one finger, 2 in another finger and 1 bigger one in my thumb.
This cactus reminds me of a story I heard while I lived in India back in 1998.
There was this scorpion trying to get across the river. But the river was quite deep and flowing very fast, and there was no way the scorpion could survive the trip.
A monk came along and saw the scorpion’s predicament. He gently picked the scorpion up to transport it across the river to safety.
As soon as he picked the scorpion up, he got stung. But he persevered and deposited his ungrateful passenger gently on the opposite bank.
Later, the monk returned again to the river, traveling home the same way he had come. Who did he find waiting by the river? The scorpion.
Again, the monk gently lifted the scorpion up in his palm to transport it back across the river. And again, he immediately got stung.
Yet he persevered, and once again he deposited his stinging passenger safely back onto the opposite river bank.
Before he left to travel onward, the scorpion asked the monk, “Why did you pick me up to transport me? You knew I was going to sting you.”
The monk replied, “As it is in your nature to sting, so it is in my nature to help. Just as I wouldn’t expect you to change your nature, so too you wouldn’t expect me to change mine.”
I think this is a very beautiful story. I also think my prickly cactus could have been an excellent understudy to the scorpion.
To clarify, I don’t really think my cactus hates me (although there are some days I waver in that belief). But I do think it is just following its nature. It is a particularly grumpy, prickle-filled cactus, and it simply can’t help itself. The moment I get close – prick, prick, prick.
There are so many things in life that remind me of the cactus and the scorpion.
There are things I can successfully avoid, like mean people and secondhand smoke and going to jail.
But then there are other things I can’t seem to avoid no matter what I do, like politics and global warming and my own eventual demise.
So….prick, prick, prick. I might not be contributing to the problems, might even be actively abstaining in a feeble effort to not make things even worse, but still, the moment I get close…..prick, prick, prick.
Maybe that is why I don’t get rid of this cactus. So many times I have fantasized about quietly up-ending it into the large black wheeled receptacle sitting at the end of our driveway.
So often have I dreamed of going out to water the other plants without having to tiptoe around one particularly irritable green individual poised to send tiny (near-invisible, really) spike-darts in my direction.
But I don’t.
Because that cactus, unlikely as it might seem, appears to be a mentor of mine.
It reminds me that sometimes life just stings, because stinging, like easing the sting, is in life’s very nature. Sometimes we sting. Sometimes we get stung.
And this keeps us humble – or at least I suspect that is the idea behind it.
One day we might be sitting pretty, getting everything we want in life – the right political candidate, the right weather, the right partner, the right salary. Life is soooo good. We are soooo happy. We see someone else getting pricked by life and we bounce over with our cheery smiles, full of gratitude that we are us and not them, to ease their suffering and patch up their wounds as best we are able.
But then the next day we wake up and our roles have reversed. Suddenly it is the person we patched up yesterday with such love and compassion who is bouncing over, high on life and grateful that they are not us, to do what they can to ease our suffering.
And so it goes, and goes, and goes.
p.s. If anyone wants a prickly little cactus of their very own, you know where to find me.
Today’s Takeaway: Do you have a cactus in your life – something that reliably pricks you, but yet for some reason you don’t get rid of it and even seem somehow drawn to it? Why do you think this is? I’d love to hear your thoughts!