One summer I am watering a lavender plant, which, I suddenly realize, has begun to look rather like a twig than a plant. I had known all along that it wasn’t thriving, but I couldn’t pinpoint exactly when the transformation had taken place. The plant had seemed mostly the same to me from one day to the next. On that particular day, I was certain that it looked much the same as it had the day before, but I was equally certain that it looked quite different from the lush lavender plant I’d picked up months before at the farmer’s market. I intercepted a wise roommate and asked for her opinion on the matter.

“Do you think it’s dead?”

“Oh, yes. Definitely.”

“Are your really sure, though? I mean, I don’t want to throw out a plant that’s still alive.” (Translation: I am not ready to let go of this plant.)

“Well,” she said, generously accommodating my denial, “try not watering it for a while and see if anything changes.”

I did, and it didn’t.

Since then, there have been a handful of plants, some of which passed quickly and mercifully and others which have persisted miraculously despite my neglect. In fact, I’ve just repotted an orchid that’s been with me for two years, and a peace lily of four is still hanging on for dear life.

There’s a little saying from the Talmud—I’m sure you’ve seen it on a greeting card somewhere—that every blade of grass has an angel that bends over it and whispers, “Grow, grow.” These two sturdy plants must have very attentive angels because their earthly guardian has no idea what she’s doing.

Still, I’m fascinated by the slow and quiet surprises of living with green things. Another summer, I remember watching with delight as the long-flowerless peace lily suddenly sprouted a few delicate white blooms. I couldn’t say what made the difference. To me, it was a summer just like any other summer, and the water was the same and the sunlight was too. It must have been something too subtle for me to notice, but in any case, there were flowers briefly and then they were gone.

So often we measure our lives in terms of how many paces it has been since the last milestone and how many more till the next. Lately, though, I’ve been learning to find joy in slow blooms and brief delights—the everyday wonders quietly awaiting our attention.