Weedy Pearls

Joe Pye was a First Nations medicine man who used “wild” weeds (i.e., native plants) to cure typhoid fever. His tonic is reputed to have stopped an epidemic in Colonial Massachusetts. In his honor, a local plant was endowed with his name.

Joe Pye Weed is a beautiful wildflower that produces clumps of blooms and reaches 7+feet tall. Joe’s mauve flowers have a vanilla scent that attracts butterflies and other pollinators. Adaptable to many soil conditions, Joe Pye Weed thrives in full sun or partial shade. From my experience with Joe, it also is a native plant that thrives through-thick-or-thin rain/no rain weather. I planted one Joe and now have a forest of Joe’s progenies, even after giving away many baby Joe’s to foster homes each summer. 

Some children are given away to foster homes — not usually because there are too many of them — but because of trauma in their biological homes. Twice placed in foster homes, 8-year-old Chris Gardner did not know that his mother was convicted of trying to kill his father by burning down the house. And yet, young Gardner first met his three maternal uncles at this time and found positive male role models. Through-thick-and-thin trial/error jobs, Gardener became a successful stockbroker and philanthropist.   

Gardner coined this gem: “The world is your oyster. It’s up to you to find the pearls.” Also an author and motivational speaker, Gardner turned his autobiography covering his rags-to-riches story into a movie, “The Pursuit of Happyness” (yes, his own happyness brand)! Gardener’s wild childhood was beset with alcoholism, domestic abuse, child abuse and other family trauma. The story of his resilience through-thick-and-thin persistence to become a caring philanthropist is a model of true grit. 

Passion plus persistence (the definition of grit) relates to having meaning in life. Gardner had a knack for finding meaning through the many mentors he gathered in his life. Consider what makes one difference between a child falling into unhealthy territory versus thriving: the difference between illness and wellness is that illness begins with “I” and wellness starts with “we.” Healthy self-territory includes other people!   

Sonja Lyubomirsky, researcher of post-traumatic growth, explains how people can bounce back after experiencing trauma. Along with colleagues she offered a pie chart of happiness: 50% biology/genetics, 10% life circumstances, and 40% intentional activity. Today she admits that this was a gross oversimplification. You already were skeptical, I’m guessing. I know that I was skeptical. Percentages regarding people are tricky estimates.

There is a takeaway though — early life circumstances do not define you 100% and your intentional activities matter a lot! Individuals with passion and persistence traipse through weedy territory and find “cures.” People often become more mature post-trauma. There are pearls among the weeds.

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz:

105. What post-traumatic growth have you experienced in your life?

106. How can you set an intention today to create your brand of happyness?

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.

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