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  • Lijing Cobb

Metabolism

Ok, I’ll be honest, I probably possibly might likely perhaps have too many plants. Although I try to water them regularly, some days I’m astounded when I see one of them droopy and listless. Didn’t I just water you yesterday?

Eek, maybe there is such a thing as too much of a good thing… No matter. The other day I got 4 more, waiting to be repotted in their temporary store abode. My excuse is that my husband doesn’t stop me. He’s my accomplice, and I don’t know what his deal is.


When winter came, a lot of my plants needed to be moved indoors to stay alive, or suffer the cruel alternative, so I acted accordingly and saved them. The hibernating plants are not necessarily the best sight for a sore eye, so I placed them in a corner of my otherwise unused dining room, which I affectionally named the Plant Rehabilitation Center (PRC, coincidentally the same acronym for my mother country, who knew!). Although when they were freshly re-situated, the plants still had greens and flowers on them and looked charming enough, over the last 4 months they have slowly but surely shed all apparent beauty. Some of them looked dead enough that I only gave them water sparingly and half-heartedly, not knowing if I was watering dirt or sustaining unseen life.

Yesterday I went into the PRC and decided that I had had enough of all the dead leaves and branches hanging around. Armed with gloves, a pair of shearing scissors, and a big garbage bag, I started cutting down all the unseemly brittle branches and scooping up brown and black leaves, my heart fluttering a bit too violently when centipedes and worming vermin scurried to evade my groping hand. Ugh, the dark side of the moon, the ugly and uncomfortable truth… it would have been so much easier, cleaner, and convenient to have just thrown them out! When I got them from the “annuals” aisle, I knew that they were only supposed to last me a year and no more. Who am I to play God! Now see what I have to deal with!

But when the deadness was removed, what pleasant surprises greeted my eyes! The untainted green, new life sprouting from the same soil that saw the life cycle of the previous generation. My efforts of saving the plants were not in vain. What was unseen and in my head is now seen and in this world. Possibilities have become realities.


On our way back from dropping the girls off to their ninja gym, my son and I had a fruitful discussion of recycling/upcycling. I had asked him what he wanted to talk about, and without hesitation he brought up the subject.


“If we could make something out of a wine bottle and reuse it, then the ocean wouldn’t be so polluted. I want to save the oceans!” My son has been learning about landforms in school these days.


Whenever we have deliveries from Amazon, my kids always want to save the boxes, especially if they are gigantic. My husband encourages such behavior, but seriously, we don't live in a palace and there’s only so much room for “chaos” in the house, so I vote for getting them out of the house to recycle, and my vote is almost always decisive. This time, however, I entertained the thought a little longer. We proceeded to discuss what upcycling means, and hash out some details about a project that we could do over the weekend: creating a game that all of us can play together using “garbage” that’s sitting around the house (not banana peels, as my son would make sure to point out in case you are wondering). When we apprised the girls of our genius plan later, they enthusiastically applauded our brilliant idea.


Get ready to see potentials in what seems to be dead, and make new life sprout!


After sending the kids to bed, my husband and I sat down together to watch some winter olympics. A 5-time Olympian, Shaun White was on his last quest for his 4th Olympic Gold at age 35. Competing in a pool filled with younger talents whose average age is 23, a whole dozen years his junior, White’s supremacy on the men’s halfpipe was challenged and conquered. The undisputed gold medalist, a youngster from Japan who stood 4 years ago at age 19 with the silver medal, just a foot shy of White’s gold podium, now stands triumphant as the new king to the throne. One of the commentators exalted the winning run to another stratosphere, declaring that mankind would never ever witness such supreme competence ever again.


Perhaps the same commentator said some such similar thing 4, 12, or 16 years ago, when Shaun White stood at the top of the podium? I have no idea. But it is always so devastating to be struck by the new phenomenon, so difficult to reconcile present and past glories, and so unimaginably hard to envision new heights. When the new rushes in and overwhelms the scene, it seems only natural for the old to recede to the background and be cleaned out in a large garbage bag in an unwanted heap.


Life moves on, relentlessly, certainly, endlessly. As the camera pans over Shaun’s face, we see that he’s teary and emotional, but he’s smiling nevertheless. No longer podium-worthy according to the judges, he’s bowing out gracefully from the world of snowboarding whose throne he had reigned for almost 2 decades. A legend: a thing of the past.

In Chinese, the word metabolism is very interesting. Xin chen dai xie, 4 words, and they literally mean new, old, replace, die. What’s fascinating about it is that the last two words, dai xie, could also mean generation and thanks. The new generation is able to emerge only thanks to the old. When the new generation replaces the old, give thanks. In English, the word metabolism is defined as “the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life” (italics my own).


The logic of nature seems to be so cruel in its straightforwardness, yet so fair in its simplicity. All things, good or bad, beautiful or ugly, kind or merciless, come to an end, only for the cycle to begin again, like the waves of the ocean water. The old offers the young fodder, the young carries on the mission of maintaining life, that’s it. Every day new babies are born and some of us lose our loved ones, and the world continues to spin and function as if nothing happened, life goes on. Do our lives matter in the grand scheme of things? Should we care about what we do in this life, since no matter what happens in these short years we ride as passengers on the vehicle we call life, we end up returning to the dirt where we came from?

The new generation is able to emerge only thanks to the old.


When the new generation replaces the old, give thanks.


So yes, in order to maintain life for this earth, we must insist on living with our roots in mind and be grateful for what the previous generation had built for us to continue on. The new greens could not have sprouted without what now seems like old yuck in my planters. The new champion could not have achieved unbelievable magnificence without the predecessors setting marks to be exceeded. We all know that, right?

But the pickle is that sometimes it is really hard to see and recognize the merits of the old. I am where I am today because I did what needed to be done, no thanks to my roots. I used to think and behave that way, and when things went wrong I blamed my roots instead. I fled my country and home at the age of 22, feeling stifled, rejected, unappreciated, utterly alone. I chose English over my native language, so much so that people hardly ever suspect that I was born and raised in China. I talked to people about the pollution, lack of privacy, crazy traffic, and suppression of individuality in my home country. When I had an issue in my newfound life, I inevitably traced it back to my upbringing, there to hang blame and shame. My “metabolism” was all out of wack. My apparent prosperity was, I had no doubt, no thanks to my past, my roots, my country and my family. I offered no thanks to them, and for a long time, I was ok with that.

But today I think that, like my son who wants to help the ocean by recycling and upcycling things I want to throw away, I was such a throwawayable thing once upon a time when I arrived at the shore of this new land, “Made in China.” Even though sometimes I forgot I was Chinese and will always be Chinese, my roots were deep and refused to let me give up on myself. It kept prodding me to keep going with the message that one day, new shoots will appear around the old stump and decaying leaves. I used what appeared to be useless in my old life and upcycled it to support my new one. Literally, without my roots, I would not be here today.

So today, I say thanks to all the ghosts and demons in my past that made me who I am now. Also, thanks plants, thanks son, and thanks Shaun. Thanks to the Chinese language that made me understand what “maintaining life” really entails. It’s a beautiful day. Live, and give thanks.


New shoots out of the same soil




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