A Simple Look at a Not-So-Simple Life


That’s how I’ve felt for the last couple of weeks – prickly. There’s nothing major going on. Just typical life/work/family stuff: a sore foot that keeps me from running, sick children, unpredictable schedule, the need to mediate a conflict between two church members, a comment or two that made me ill, a creative block. You know . . . life. Some days and weeks are sunshine and blue sky while others are just prickly pear.

The name “prickly pear” kept popping into my head all week. As it pushed its way into my consciousness, I realized that I wasn’t exactly sure what a prickly pear was. Google to the rescue! This, I learned, is what a prickly pear looks like:

prickly pearMaybe I should have know this already, but this Southeastern US girl has never had the privilege of seeing a desert. Somehow the potted versions of these I’ve seen in Lowe’s and other gardening shops didn’t make a strong enough impression for me to learn the name.

I did a little research and learned some interesting things about the prickly pear. It has two kinds of spines on it: long smooth spines that are fixed and smaller, hairlike spines called glochids that easily detach and burrow into your skin. The larger spines may look the most intimidating, but it’s the smaller ones that can really get under your skin – literally.

The prickly pear also produces fruit that is rich in magnesium, potassium, and vitamins C and A. It is good for heart health, kidney function, and energy. The key to eating the fruit so that you can enjoy those benefits is making sure you get rid of all the glochids on the surface. If you aren’t careful, you might ingest some of them, causing extreme discomfort to the mouth, throat, and tongue. Ouch! Bet it’s hard to talk with those things stuck in your mouth!

This plant has also been used to create natural fences – to keep cattle contained, to delineate family land, and even to keep Cubans from attempting to escape to the US by crossing over onto the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Something tells me those spikes would be an effective deterrent from crossing into forbidden territory.

So maybe I really am a bit of a prickly pear. The long, smooth spines – those are no big deal. They are part and parcel of my life and personality. It’s those hairlike glochids that get under my skin that are the ones to worry about: misunderstandings, poor communication, unreasonable expectations (from self and from others), and plain old daily aggravations. Having a child or children who are sick or facing challenges definitely qualifies as a glochid. When things aren’t right with your child/ren, things aren’t right – period.

It’s encouraging to know that my prickly pear days could actually be good for me – nutritious to heart and energy. IF, that is, I can manage to ingest the fruit without swallowing some of those darn glochids. If I do swallow a few, it might take a little longer for me to be able to express myself and my feeling effectively to others.

It’s also a relief to know that my prickly pear self can be used to create boundaries. It’s true that while some boundaries are healthy, others are not so much so. But speaking as a person who has been shaky at best at creating healthy boundaries in my life, it’s nice to know that this is one tool that might be of good use.

I’ve long lived in a world of grass, bushes, and trees, with no real knowledge of the desert or cacti. I find it interesting that such a foreign concept to me would be the very thing that has bubbled to the surface of my consciousness this week. Being a prickly pear isn’t necessarily fun, but I think sometimes it is necessary. So until the sunshine and blue skies come back around, I’ll be over here trying to eat the prickly pear’s nutritious fruit and plant a few more for healthy boundaries, all while trying to keep those darn glochids from taking up residence under my skin.


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3 thoughts on “Prickly

  1. Another point about prickly pear cacti…they are the favorite food of a desert cloved-hoof boar like animal called Javelina. Walking around the SW one will see prickly pear with huge bites taken out of them…imagine a creature that can eat this….

    But me too…it’s the little things that can get under my skin and cause disease and problems….

    • Goodness! That animal must have no nerve endings in its mouth! I’m not so sure I would want a one-on-one encounter with that critter. I do want to visit the Southwest one day. I understand it has a beauty all its own.

  2. What a creative post! And now I know a lot about prickly pears.

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