Leaf washing is such a beautiful activity to watch. I have witnessed young children do it many, many times and each time I fell captive to their careful movements. This work beckons a slowness from the individual doing it. I have read about and witnessed first hand what Maria Montessori referred to as the spirituality of work. Simply viewing these photos that I took 4 + years ago, I immediately recalled the deep connection this child had with the materials and the plant itself. See here: leaf washing at Blue Hill Montessori School.
Today, I presented leaf washing to a senior at The Bridge (yes, this time I presented the work fully before passing it over to her waiting hands). She became immediately engaged with the materials.
When she finished washing all of the leaves on the first plant, she worked on a second and then a third.
Above: She poured water into the porcelain tray and then dipped a cotton ball into the water. She used the wet cotton ball to wipe each of the plant's leaves. As in the classroom, the materials were carefully selected and their designs signify the work they are used for.
Above: the smallest oval, porcelain tray is used to hold soiled cotton balls.
Above: I watched her wash the long stems of this Christmas cactus and her hand movements reminded me of someone plaiting a child's hair.
Below: Here she is working on her third plant. She asked for a pair of scissors so she could cut away a dead leaf.
Below : While she worked on each of the three plants, she repeatedly pointed out to me how dirty the cotton balls had become after she used them on the leaves. This is a point of interest for this work. She was saddened that the plants had not been washed earlier.
She was so intently focused on the service she was providing for each of the plants. As she washed and wiped the dust from each leaf, she spoke. Here are a few of the things that she said as she work:
The plants love this! I used to do this for all of my houseplants. They love the water. "Make sure you get them all J----- and don't forget those leaves." Don't worry, I'm just talking to myself so I don't forget to wash any of the leaves. I don't mind doing this. Actually, I love it. It's like they are taking baths. I used to love to take a bath but I don't get to take them any more, just showers. See, the plants are saying thank you and I am saying thank you for letting me do this. I want to help. I want to be useful. I need to care for something. I do. I really love this work.
Shortly after she had begun working on washing the first plant, a second senior approached me asking for some work to do. This senior had previous experience with the silver polishing tray. I had brought in an antique, silver box that needed polishing a few days earlier and placed it on the tray. Now was the time to show her the box. I did and she had both the silver polishing tray and the box on the same table as the senior doing the leaf work minutes later. They worked across from each other, yet rarely spoke.
When all three plants had each of their leaves carefully washed, the soiled cotton balls were tossed out and the others items were returned to the tray. The senior who did the work carefully carried it back to the shelf to be used again another day.
Every individual desires purpose. They desire a spiritual connection to the world at large. Maria Montessori wrote much about the spirituality of work. I witnessed that, again, today. I saw this senior's attitude change completely when she became engaged in the work of washing the leaves. She remembered earlier times in her life when her hands cared for her own houseplants. She felt useful again. She felt significant. Her touch mattered. I read recently this truly wise quote by Aimee Mullins, "The only true disability is a crushed spirit."
At the end of the day when she was going out the front door, she turned to me and said, "I will wash more leaves tomorrow."