When I need to escape at work, I go to the rose garden. It sits on the edge of an area where beautiful spots congregate. It seems a bit unfair that the spots don’t spread out, especially since they surround the College of Business, as if to show that money really can buy happiness.
Last time I was there, I saw a man with a hoe inspecting the flowers and thanked him for his work. Turns out he has been tending that part of campus for thirty years and created not only the rose garden but also the cactus garden across the lawn, not to mention a sheltered dirt path that always feels as if you’ve found a secret place none of the other 20,000 people on campus know about.
So did I ask this person who created one of my favorite spots what kind of connection he’d forged with the piece of earth he’d tended for thirty years? What it feels like to know a location so intimately? Why he decided to plant a rose garden? What his favorite flower is?
No. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it resembled “Sure is warm today, isn’t it?”
I used to hate small talk. My answer to the weather question was “Yes.” This approach did not help me at parties. Then I realized that small talk isn’t evil and vacuous; it’s useful and vacuous. It puts many people at ease, and in a world where so many of us spend so much time wondering what we’re doing wrong, providing a little mind balm is not necessarily a bad idea.
But it’s a shame to make such a habit of it that when you meet the man responsible for a particularly beautiful corner of earth, you can’t get beyond thank you. I hope I get to see him again and get another chance to learn something real about this place and the person who cares for it. In the meantime, I am going to assume that his favorite rose is the same as mine, the orange and yellow one that somehow manages to bloom in at least three shades at once.