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March 31, 2004
Your forsythia don't look good, my friend said as she came in the door.

While not as kindly put as it might have been, her observation was sadly true: our forsythia are still not in bloom. Just a few yellow flowers in one section of a forty-foot stretch of stubbornly brown forsythia. The rest may bloom and it may not.

Well, Grace's isn't blooming, either, I said weakly. Grace's row of forsythia is a continuation of our row. But this morning, Grace's is blooming and ours is not. That looks very odd.

We like our forsythia untrimmed, its graceful branches reaching for the sky. We don't like plants cut to look like boxes. But it's beginning to look like our forsythia is in need of a radical haircut. After this blooming season, whether we get nice yellow blooms over the next few days or not, the clippers are coming out. Perhaps we will cut them even with Grace's row. Then there will be eighty feet of intense yellow next year.

It always feels like the kindest thing to do is let things pursue their own fortunes in their own way. But that's not always true. Children have to go to school, even if they don't want to. You have to cramp their style, sometimes, in order to help them grow, or they will content themselves with not growing enough to meet their own needs in life. Extremely dependent adults, even, need not remain that way: sometimes you must be unavailable to them, and tell them to reach within themselves and find the things they think they can only get from you. This feels mean-spirited. But it is actually kind. An adult, even one you love, is on dangerous ground if all that separates him from disaster is you.

The butterfly bushes in front are three feet taller than I am. Every spring, you chop them down mercilessly: down to about two feet from the ground. This is hard, to chop off a perfectly good branch. But it makes them send up twice as many graceful curves of green, bloom twice as heavily.

Does it hurt them to be pruned? Maybe. It hurts us. But sometimes it's the only way.
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