I've talked before about the significance of orchids in my childhood. They've shown up in my art over the years in part because of the memories associated with them, but also in part as a symbol of a prized result of meticulous cultivation, an emblem of what happens when you give something (or someone) difficult to grow the extra care needed. This is based on the concept of the "orkidebarn" (orchid child) put forth in the 2005 paper “Biological sensitivity to context” in the Development and Psychopathology journal. The authors of the research paper, human development specialists Bruce Ellis of the University of Arizona and W. Thomas Boyce of Berkeley, had made a new discovery in the fields of genetics and child development, that while some children could thrive anywhere and others were very sensitive to their environments and would wither without care, those sensitive children would also bloom if given the right environment, the right cultivation.
This concept has since been backed up by further study, and has a genetic correlation with the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) gene NR3C1 and the production of glucocorticoid receptor to bind to the stress hormone cortisol and thus manage stress. Early childhood trauma leads to reduced expression of this gene and thus decreased ability to manage stress. Now, imagine that reduced expression repeated over multiple generations, leading to a ever-decreasing abilities to manage stress with each subsequent generation, increasing the likelihood of further trauma with each new generation, a genetic feedback loop.
The orchid child fits into my personal symbolism both in terms of understanding multi-generational cycles of abuse within my own family and also in terms of how I perceive people in general. I recognize that so many of the people I don't find easy to deal with have their own histories of trauma, their own epigenetic chains to break. Everyone must face their own demons and take some measure of responsibility for their own healing, but if I can help the process along by giving someone that extra bit of care and attention for a moment, shouldn't I? Of course the kicker in that is in balancing that care for others with care for myself - when our own coping mechanisms are pushed to the max, how much can we in turn devote to others?
Orchids thus have become a symbol of an ideal of caring realized in physical form.
Perhaps that is why I hate seeing my father's greenhouse so empty.