Reflections on a Fallen Cactus

Yesterday while Alicia and I were in the kitchen, I heard something fall in the garage. I went out to see and the cactus in our covered “garage” or car port had fallen over. I told Alicia and she stopped doing the dishes and came out to see.

By the way, right behind the spray bottles is our clothes dryer.

Before continuing to read, look closely at the photo and try to imagine some of the things that I am going to tell you that happened after that. Be like a detective, reconstructing the evidence.


*  *  *  *  *

OK, here is what happened after that. Alicia put the bottle of Pinol back upright so it wouldn’t spill. At first we thought of lifting the cactus up. We tried pulling it up together by the clay base because we didn’t want to get pricked. But it was too heavy.


Then Alicia said to go get some rope. I went to where we usually keep the rope (about 10 meters away), but all I could find was an old extension cord. I thought, “This will do and might even be better, because if I used rope, the cactus needles would stick to it and I couldn’t use the rope again.” As I walked back to where Alicia was, I saw that the two cords of rope I had been looking for were actually right on top of the dryer in plain sight.


I put the extension cord around the side of the cactus where you can see a yellow flower in the picture, swung the heavy end back and forth a little bit so that it would go under the cactus, and then reached under the cactus for it. I then plugged one end into the other. I adjusted the cord so that it would be high enough on the cactus where I thought it would be easier to pull, but low enough to avoid breaking the cactus. We tried again to straighten it back up, but no luck.


Alicia and I then decided that I should go get the gardener who does our lawn. (He lives only about three blocks away and is often free in the late afternoon). I thought, “That is best. He will know what to do.” However, Alicia had suggested that I have him buy a couple of the empty “costales” or bags that the gardener uses when he cuts our grass. So I went upstairs to take off my sandals and put on my shoes (I forget what you call “costales” in English, but see the photo below). I was slow to do this, however, because I just kept thinking about this for some reason.

I also told Alicia, “Don’t try to fix it yourself because you might hurt yourself.” I was thinking of her hurting her back, since my back has been hurting.

In the meantime, Alicia decided to try cutting the cactus with a large knife, which you can see at the bottom of the picture. She was able to cut off some of it and put what she had cut in a bucket. But then she started getting pricked by the thorns and some of the sap also got on her. The sap is extremely sticky and irritating and is really hard to wash off your skin with soap. I did not remember this about the sap and thought, “Wow, these cactuses really know how to defend themselves!”


Finally, she saw that it was best to give up and went upstairs, while I got ready downstairs to go get the gardener. As I was getting some money to give the gardener so that he might buy a couple of “costales” at the market (a block from his house) before he came to our place, I got my cell phone and thought, “I think I will write a reflection on this, since this is what mission work is all about—going to get help from an expert who knows better than us what should be done to solve a problem.” Then, I thought, “I should take a picture first so that people can understand my reflection better.” I took a bunch, one of which I have inserted above.


I went to get the gardener but he was not home. A man answered the door who looked a lot like the gardener and was about the same age. I thought, “This must be his brother.” When he said that the gardener was not there, I told the man my name and asked him to tell the gardener to please come to our place when he got back.


About 45 minutes later, the gardener came knocking and I showed him what had happened. I mentioned the possibility about the “costales.” First he asked for gardening shears, so I had him go get ours from the place where we keep the “costales.” He then realized that they wouldn’t work. He also got some “costales” out and put them on the garage floor near the cactus. He tried using the knife Alicia had gotten out but saw that it wouldn’t work, either. He said he wanted to try using a saw and said he would go get his own. But he kept thinking….


While he was thinking, I asked the gardener if the man was his brother. He did not respond, and I saw that this was precisely because he was thinking. Then I asked him again, and he said that the man indeed was his brother.


Then he asked exactly what I wanted to do with the cactus. I said that I did not know, since it belonged to my wife. I asked her from downstairs whether she still wanted the cactus and what he should do with it, but then I thought, “Rather than having me explain (since I may get it wrong), it is best for her to come down and tell the gardener herself.” I noticed, however, that she was reluctant to come down.


When she came down, she told the gardener that she wanted him to leave a piece of the root of the cactus in the clay pot and that he could throw the rest away. Then, when he was about to go get his saw, he asked again if we had one. Alicia looked at me and said, “Yes, we do,” and wanted me to go look for it. But since it would be a hassle to find, I winked at her and said, “I don’t know where it is.” This, of course, was a half-truth.


So the gardener went to get his saw. He also asked whether I had some rope, which I showed him. Before leaving, he put the shears and the “costales” away again (on two separate trips). He told me that rope was better than the “costales” because the thorns would not go into the sacks very easily. He said the garbage men could use gloves to take away the bundles of cactus.


Back in the house, Alicia showed me that she had gotten cactus needles in her hand and also said that she had gotten some of the sap on her. (That was why she had not wanted to come downstairs, since she was trying to deal with  this upstairs.) I remembered thinking, “I hope that one thing does not lead to another.” Later on that night, I told her that her eye had started to swell up and she told me that she had rubbed the sweat on her eye with her arm while she was trying to cut down the cactus. I thought, “This is precisely what I was worried about in the first place.”


When the gardener returned, I let him get started while I went to work on the computer, which was behind the wall but only about two meters away from the cactus. Actually, I noticed that he took the cactus outside to work on it when he had gotten it small enough so as to be able to lift it. Before that, however, the truck that delivers our 20-liter bottles of water came by and the delivery man asked if we were going to want water. The gardener, who did not know that I could hear him perfectly well through the window, said “El señor no está” (in other words, that I wasn’t home). I laughed to myself and thought, “The reason he said that is because it is so much faster to make up a lie like that than to go into an explanation. But what if I had walked out right when he said that? What would he have said to the delivery man? It really is not good to tell lies, but I understand very well why people do it. Actually, he did it because he did not want to be interrupted while he was doing what I had asked him to do.”


When the gardener had finished, he called for me and asked me for a large bag where he could put the little pieces of cactus he was sweeping up. I saw what he had done and told him everything looked fine.


One of the things I have learned is to ask people how much they want for their work and to pay them exactly what they ask for, without giving them any extra. So I asked him how much he wanted, but my question boomeranged when he said, “Give me whatever you like.” I thought a moment and then asked him if 100 pesos was fine. He said “Yes,” I gave him the money, and he left. He had looked content and pleased even before I had asked him how much to pay him. Later, I thought that perhaps I should have insisted, and he would have given me an amount.


An hour or so later, I kept thinking, “Why did the cactus suddenly fall over?” I knew that it was because it had gotten too big for the clay pot it was in, but continued to ask myself, “Why now? Was this fate? divine destiny?” Finally, I asked Alicia and she said, “It was because of the vibration from the dryer.” She had been drying her clothes.


Here are the lessons of this story, which are both about doing mission work and about life in general:


  1. When something like this happens, just go get the expert instead of trying to figure out what to do yourself.


  1. As I later told Alicia, who had to put a bandage on her hand, if you try to do it yourself to save some money, you will probably end up paying an even higher price.


  1. Don’t offer the experts your own solutions, like I did to the gardener, because you only confuse them.


  1. Nevertheless, it is good to offer suggestions to the experts in order to help them think through the process. They may go back and forth several times, as the gardener did, but eventually they will get things solved.


  1. It ended up actually being good for everyone involved that this tragic cactus accident happened. The gardener not only made a little money but felt very useful doing so and this gave him a sense of self-worth. The garbage man also made a little money. We had to pay something (especially Alicia!) but it was worth it.


  1. We are all blind and need to ask one another to help us see.


  1. Over time, as we are hurt, we all evolve into cactuses.


  1. It is good to keep cactuses around to remind us of this.


There are undoubtedly more lessons to be learned, but you can find them on your own.


David Brondos

19 August 2017