Lucy's Newspaper Columns

Common Ground is a monthly newspaper column appearing in the New Hampshire Seacoast Newspapers.  Professional photographer Lucy also does the accompanying photographs.

Despite Differences,
We Should All be able to Fit In

This column appeared on December 14, 1999

Have you ever heard of a potted plant that doesn't fit in?

Our church invites members to lend poinsettias for the church at Christmas.  On Christmas eve and during following days these red, white, and pink plants grace the sanctuary.

In our house we have a poinsettia plant.  We could donate it to the church but it might not fit in.

Earlier in the year I rescued this plant from its trash-bin destination.  My mother, aged 96, was planning to discard it as she usually discards gift plants that she considers too large and showy for her room at the Eventide Home in Exeter.

Since then this poinsettia has lived by various windows in our house.  It is now bigger and leafier than before and, as the holidays approach, it has begun to sprout a few bracts--that's what those red things are called--right on schedule!  These bracts are smaller than those we see on new poinsettias.  They appear individually, not in the familiar starlike formation.  This results in a leafy green plant sprouting little red things in odd places.  It sits in its original green plastic pot, without the original holiday foil.

I could put this plant up there with the other poinsettias in the church but it might look odd.

Consider, though, how often we do this.  How often do we exclude something that seems odd?  How often do we discard things and people when they no longer have the shine of  youth or when they don't "fit in?"

In a publishing company where I recently worked there was an editor named Amy.  An experienced editor, she was a transfer from the Chicago office.  A widow and mother of a grown son, she left friends and family behind in the Chicago area to move to the Northeast.  She worried about fitting in.

Amy had a mysterious sickness.  She went to regular doctors' appointments, but declined to tell us what the sickness was.  Like most people in corporations she was evasive about her age, but hinted that she was in her fifties.

Then corporate headquarters announced that a large conglomerate would soon buy out the company and close our regional editorial office.  At that point Amy began appearing sicker; also anxious and depressed.  She began isolating herself.  She announced that there was a treatment she needed but that now, because of the obligatory impending job search, she had to postpone it.  She would sit in her office and stare morosely at her desk.

The office closed in October of that year.  At that point, Amy cheerfully told us all that she planned to get treatment, recuperate, and then begin her job search.

Two weeks later I phoned her.  She sounded happy and said that she was feeling better now that all of the unpleasantness that goes with a corporate takeover was past.  Since Amy and I lived an hour's drive from each other and the holiday season was under way, we agreed we'd get together after the holidays.

We never did.  On January 5, 1997, Amy died.  Her mysterious illness had been leukemia. The treatment she had postponed had been chemotherapy.

Amy had known that companies want people who can both perform and "fit in."  Fitting in can involve resembling others in age group, personality type, dress, and vigorous health.  Amy imagined herself job-hunting after "chemo," older than most candidates, not in maximal health, and wearing a wig.  Deciding that she had no chance of being hired in that persona she postponed the treatment that might have saved her life.  She had hinted that she was in her fifties;  her actual age at death was 64.

News of her death traveled by phone and sent shock waves through this group of 25 people who had worked in that regional office.  Even those who hadn't liked working with the sometimes-ornery Amy were horrified, and upset with themselves for not having suspected that their colleague was mortally ill.  We wished that she had felt free to talk about her dilemma.

The publishing world might or might not have discarded Amy because of her age and cancer treatments.  Though many criticize the corporate world for ageism and other kinds of discrimination, big companies don't have a corner on this behavior.  We all do it, despite our efforts to the contrary, in one way or another.  Part of life's journey is constantly reeducating ourselves about people different from ourselves.

We don't plan to donate our funny poinsettia to The Congregational Church in Exeter at Christmas.  But if we did, its round green leafiness could set off and complement the new poinsettias with their large symmetrical bracts of pink, white, and crimson.

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