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.

Morning Matters

The other night I stayed up past my bedtime, which happens often and generally leads me to resent having to brush my teeth. Sometimes, though, when I’m too tired to be useful, small epiphanies arrive. On this particular night, a peaceful feeling bubbled up and with it a thought: maybe the little things we do in the morning are enough.

Morning isn’t really complicated. Many of you may have figured this out already. Tasks tend to repeat on a daily basis: shower, brush teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast. Remarkable.

The thing is, I have a little reality problem. In the evening, I arrive home around six. My evening to-do list generally reads something like the following:

  • Exercise
  • Sell novel
  • Clean entire house
  • Cook dinner
  • Play with cat
  • Answer all emails
  • Go to bed by 9:30

This list produces mostly guilt and a doomed attempt to stuff the unfinished items into the following morning. My vanmates can attest to the success of this approach.

I did not invent the possibility that getting dressed and eating breakfast is enough. Wise people have been telling the rest of us that for a large chunk of human history (most notably for me Paula D’Arcy, Kathleen Norris, and William Stafford). But despite hearing them say it, I’ve practiced it precious little.

The word “enough” often connotes just the opposite for us Americans. “Enough” in this case means “holy,” not “only.” Which inevitably raises the specter of the G word: God.

About God: I do not claim to know how you should call that power or connection or love, how you should interact with it, or even whether you should believe in it. The previous admissions make clear my lack of qualifications for that judgment. I will write only about my sense of and experience with God. Please translate freely into any language or frame of reference that helps you.

In my way of relating to this existence, God gave me a tiny taste of what it would feel like to honor daily tasks, an enticement, a temptation. If I could welcome the morning instead of launching myself against it, that peaceful feeling might seep into the rest of the day and, one can hope, outward to those I meet.