The House Plants

For a special occasion, Gail received a pair of house plants from her cousin. Though to say they were plants may be overstating the case—they were more like sprouts. Her cousin had planted them in rich, dark soil held in pots glazed with floral designs.

Determined to honor the gift by helping the plants thrive while at the same time beautifying her home, Gail placed the pots on a narrow table just under a large window where they would get plenty of sunlight during the day. Then she looked carefully over the instructions that had come with the plants so she would know how to care for these particular ones.

Gail bought some plant food and mixed it into the soil, and then she began watering the plants according to the schedule and amount specified in the instructions.

At first, not much changed. Gail expected faster and more obvious growth. Some days, she noticed a new leaf forming when she first looked at the plants in the morning, but no other progress seemed apparent. Shouldn’t they be growing more quickly?

One morning, she noticed that one of the plants was unfurling several new leaves, bright green and tipped with red. The other one appeared much the same as the day before. Over the next few days, the difference between the two plants became more pronounced. And then, inexplicably, the plant that had undergone a growth spurt slowed down again.

Gail tried to figure out the problem. The plants had the same pots, same soil, same sunlight, same water on the same schedule. So what was different? And why were they growing so slowly?

Two months after Gail received the plants, her cousin came for a visit. When she saw the plants, she exclaimed, “Oh! Look at how much they’ve grown! You’re doing wonderfully!”

Gail’s eyebrows rose, but then she considered the plants from a distance and realized that they really had grown a lot. They stood six or more inches tall and bore many spreading leaves—much different than the scrawny sprouts she had begun with. She had been so focused on trying to detect differences from one day to another that she missed the fact that progress had been occurring over time. The things she was doing were working, and Gail just needed to take a longer view to see it.

Photo by Vampyriada on

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