Roses Are More Than Red

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.

6 thoughts on “Roses Are More Than Red

  1. I love the rose garden and would love to talk to the person who maintains it too. It is so beautiful this time of year. But even when the flowers are not blooming it is tranquil place to spend time.

  2. Nice to have a place you can go to by your work. And with your luck with people you will probably have a chance to self correct!

  3. Rachel, this is very nice. Henry, the groundsman who takes care of that area of campus is a great guy. He and his wife were even married in the gardens on the O’Neil Green area. I used to see him almost everyday when I worked in the old Ed Bldg. I would sit on the lawn and read while eating my lunch and have an opportunity to visit with him often.

  4. The term “phatic” unfurled worlds for me. A quick Google defines it as the “nonreferential use of language to share feelings or establish a mood of sociability rather than to communicate information or ideas.” I am still working on its place in my life, but it was a call to a certain type of action. In my family, there is the deflective phatic, where we are technically communicating information (often about animals) but are establishing a reservoir of sociability that we can then, at least theoretically, draw on. I wonder whether, for other groups, board games occupy that role. Also, I acknowledge that a major way I give and receive love is through quantity- and quality-time spent in conversation. So all that means is that I wonder whether perhaps you gave (if not received) in a way that was more emphatic, more plural, more real than the purely vacuous.

  5. There is an art I wish I knew to using the almost-phatic to elicit the answers that would add up to a depth–to answers that would be satisfying to feel-and-think with. (I often think of Xenophon’s portrayal of Socrates’ questioning as opposed to Plato’s more ‘gotcha’-tending Socrates.) “What intermural sports did you play?” was a catalytic example. “So, where is home for you?” has been my favorite.

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