Love Is Contagious, Too

In the garden, caution is sometimes the only strategy to keep your rose bushes healthy.

The best example involves pruning. You don’t prune one rose bush and then move on to the next without sanitizing your shears. If you do, a virus that has covertly infected one bush is almost sure to spread through the entire garden. Certain viruses like witches broom (officially known as rose rosette) are so insidious that removing diseased bushes is considered the only recourse.

Knowing this, when health and government authorities told us all to repeatedly wash our hands, diligently sanitize surfaces, and stay home as much as possible to interrupt the spread of the corona virus, I wasn’t inclined to argue. Self-quarantine of individuals who’ve contracted the disease, but aren’t sick enough to be hospitalized, also made sense.

But what does this mean once you’re actually surrounded by the same four walls and (if you’re lucky to have housemates) the same faces day after day?

Despite what the calendar says, spring has not arrived in the high desert of Northern Nevada so, even on mild days, there isn’t a great deal of work to do in the garden. Saturday night dinner with the kids and grandkids is not an option. Television loses its luster when there is almost a constant stream of bad news and you’ve watched all the new episodes of programs you like.

So here’s what we’re doing in our household.

Every day we try to limit our daily intake of the bad news. Instead, my husband and I check in with family and friends via telephone calls, texts, email, and Facebook. Not only does that keep things in perspective, it helps us feel less isolated from the people we love. We can’t physically go through this crisis together, but we can go through it together emotionally.

Every day we spend time working on projects that normally we only wish we had time to do. For me, that means I’m suddenly making rapid progress on the historical novel I started two years ago. Rewrites I thought would take months are taking days or weeks instead. And what a joy it is that someone who regularly critiques my work is now my partner in isolation and can make suggestions in real time.

Most importantly, every day I try to think of something positive I can do for someone else. Admittedly, there’s not a lot. The last time we went to the grocery store I made a point of cheerfully greeting everyone I saw (from a socially safe distance, of course). In addition, I resisted the urge to buy more than we really needed so other shoppers could buy what they needed, too. A few days ago, I checked on our older-than-us neighbors and made sure they had our telephone number if they should need help. Yesterday, I left a “thank you” sign on the door for the UPS driver who continues to make essential deliveries while the world goes crazy around him.

Perhaps as we get deeper into the pandemic, it will become more challenging to tolerate isolation, be productive, and stay positive. But I’m personally going to try with all my heart and soul to persist. I invite you to join me in that mission. Collectively, let’s do everything we can to interrupt the spread of the corona virus and, at the same time, make sure patience, kindness, and love spread unchecked all over the world.

One Beautiful Thing

George Burns is a lovely, striped rose my sister bought for me a decade ago during one of her visits to Nevada. At the time, she wanted one for herself as well. That is, until the owner of the local nursery said the bush wouldn’t produce the same colors in Oregon.

This past season, George Burns was among the first of my rose bushes to recover from a late freeze and produce a bloom. I almost missed it since the bud formed in a sheltered niche among some low, leafy canes. I spotted it on the 7th of June just after it burst.

To my surprise, the flower was not the splash of red and white I’ve come to expect from this bush. It was red and yellow – the colors the nursery owner predicted for Oregon growers.

It didn’t take long to figure out the reason. It was the rain – lots of it – that came to the high desert over the winter and early spring. Mother Nature changed the pigment of the petals much like an artist adjusts the pigment of watercolors by adding more paint or more water to the canvas.

I don’t presume to understand the science of how a flower reacts to moisture in such a stunning way. All I know is that it clearly does. When I looked at the same blossom after 12 days of clear skies, with only our drip system sustaining the bush, the yellow had given way to almost pure white.

Whether one prefers red paired with yellow or paired with white on a George Burns bush is of little consequence in this story. Rather, it is the simple understanding that what any living thing receives in the way of sustenance will surely color its existence.

Knowing this puts a profound burden on we humans, don’t you think?

If we understand that what we consume plays a big role in determining our health, doesn’t it follow that we should choose what we eat and drink carefully? If we understand that words and deeds make a difference in how we feel and whether we thrive, doesn’t it follow that we should be kind to ourselves and, likewise, speak and act with kindness toward others?

Yet, too often we don’t behave in a way that reflects this understanding. We don’t treat ourselves or those around us with the care we should. The upshot is that we don’t live the best life we can, and we miss opportunities to lift others up so they have a better chance of living theirs.

It’s not a failure per se. It’s human nature – especially when a thousand random things in a fast-paced, complex world affect our actions and reactions.

Still, wouldn’t it be lovely if we could slow down, if only for a little while each day, to make sure we do at least one beautiful thing for ourselves and one beautiful thing for someone else?

Like the colors of my George Burns rose, the result could be stunning.

 

 

Be Kind, Show Love

Some of the prettiest roses I’ve seen in my neck of the woods aren’t in my backyard. The Carson-Tahoe Cancer Center in nearby Carson City has dozens of bushes.

Many circling the hillside complex are polyantha roses – compact puffs of landscaping fillers that faithfully produce small blooms all summer. Because all of them are red, I like to imagine that the designer thoughtfully chose a particular variety named after the character Happy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Other bushes placed in a special garden and in beds near the main entrance comprise a pleasant mix of low-growing floribunda and taller hybrid tea and grandiflora roses. There are no name plaques but, in my walks around the complex, I’ve pondered how the different colors represent a range of warm emotions – love, sympathy, friendship, appreciation, joy.

You may think this is a surprising place to find comfort and peace – in this landscape surrounding an institution where very sick people come to receive sometimes very unpleasant treatments – but I’m not surprised at all. Every square inch of the property was intentionally designed to nurture hurting souls.

The building itself was designed that way as well. Patients receiving infusions sit by a semi-circle of picture windows looking out over the city or woodlands. Strategically hung birdfeeders provide hours of entertainment – because that’s how long some treatments take. Huge stone fireplaces in comfortable waiting rooms generate the best kind of warmth on chilly days.

And, most important of all, kindness circulates in the hallways, offices, and waiting rooms like the soothing smell of your grandmother’s kitchen on a Sunday afternoon.

I have to admit, I wasn’t particularly enamored of the place the first time I had to visit after receiving a diagnosis of early stage breast cancer. In the two years since, I’ve come to appreciate my visits and have willingly spent extra hours inside the building and wandering the grounds while supporting others on their arduous paths through cancer.

The lesson I’ve learned there is that, no matter how fundamentally dreadful the purpose of a place might be, it can still be surrounded by and filled with the best humankind has to offer. The question I’ve come to contemplate is why can’t the best of humankind be replicated in every home, every community, and every place of business on earth?

For a shining period in my 50s, I worked for an organization that was led by the most empowering leader I’ve ever known. He set an example of cooperation, teamwork, mutual support, and simply being kind to one another that was unmatched in my 37-year career. His primary rules for the office were “no mean, no loud, no negative.” His parting words (when the Governor wisely asked him to come and run his office) were “be kind, show love.” The fact that his approach worked was evident in the volume and the quality of our outcomes. Hands down, I did my best work there. I ended up transferring and then taking early retirement when his successor took the polar opposite approach to management.

Circling back to the question that sometimes keeps me awake at night, why does an inspiring environment have to be as rare as the mythical Brigadoon? What stops us from regularly bringing our best selves to our marriages, our parenting, our interactions with neighbors, and our careers? Why is it ever OK to be mean, loud, and negative? I honestly don’t know. But here’s what I do know.

If a fundamentally dreadful place like a cancer center can create an inviting atmosphere – one that exudes peace and compassion – then it can’t be that difficult anywhere else. I have the power. You have the power. We all have the power to fill our homes, communities, and businesses with the very best humankind has to offer. It’s not up to anyone else, and it’s as simple as my former leader’s parting words.

“Be kind, show love.”