Be the Old Man

When I shared the first roses from this year’s garden on my social media page, a dear friend posted a comment that I’ve been turning over in my head ever since. Call her a gardener. The seed she planted has germinated and is about to bloom right here on this page.

Referencing the beauty of my photographs, she said simply, “The reward for years of hard work in your garden.”

Well, yes. Hard work usually does result in a reward. In my garden, it’s roses. In my writing, it’s a book or blog that touches a reader. In my efforts to be kind, it’s a grateful smile on someone’s face.

Simple, right?

Well, it was … until my friend’s words began to mingle with a recent declaration made by someone else I know.

At the end of a rather long conversation, we got around to comparing our respective purposes in life. I explained my intent to make the world a better place by being a positive force. He thought that was nice and all. A pebble tossed in the middle of a lake eventually produces ripples that reach the opposite shore. But it wasn’t enough for my conversation mate. He has visions of making a bigger splash. Ideally, the pebble he tosses will be more like a boulder.

While cleaning out flower beds this week – an exercise that inevitably sparks rumination – I thought about the different ways each of us impacts the world. Some of us are content if our ripples encircle our family and friends. Some seek opportunities to improve their community. Some would love to see their name in the history books if only they could come back someday and take a look.


What if we could come back someday?

Before you dismiss the possibility, here’s my disclaimer. You don’t have to believe in reincarnation or an afterlife. Or that aliens might whisk you away and later bring you home to a planet that has aged while you haven’t. Or that time travel is possible.

The theory of how it might happen doesn’t matter. All you have to do is imagine you’re here, let’s say 80 years in the future. What do you want to see? How do you hope to live? What do you envision is different?

Maybe your heart’s desire is to finally see the natural wonders of this planet. Maybe you want to live in a world where cancer doesn’t claim the people you love. Maybe you envision great leadership that brings people and nations together. Or maybe you just want everyone to have enough to eat.

Close your eyes for a minute and think about what would make life great in the 22nd Century. It doesn’t have to be something from my examples. There are a million other things you could choose. The only caveat is that your vision must be something that benefits some or all of us and harms none.

Got it? Now imagine you have the power to make it so. How? By planting the metaphorical seeds that will grow your dream.

You want to see the natural wonders of the world? Work toward preserving them. You want cancer to be curable or, better yet, nonexistent? Support cancer research. What about great leadership? Be an example of great leadership now or lend a hand to organizations that nurture future leaders. Food? The ways you can impact the availability of food are virtually endless.

Don’t spend a single second fretting that you’re just one person. Only a lucky few have ever changed the world single-handedly. Remember, in this exercise, we have 80 years for our visions to unfold. Eighty years for my ripples of kindness to merge with other ripples and become the gold standard. Eighty years for great leaders to mentor greater leaders. Eighty years for your heart’s desire to materialize.

Of course, it would be magical if all the good we collectively want could appear before our eyes right here, right now. But shouldn’t we be working toward the world we desire anyway? Shouldn’t we want future generations to enjoy the fruits of our labor?

You’ve heard the Greek proverb. “A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.” The unspoken message is that someday someone else will enjoy the shade.

Imagine you’re the someone else. Then be the old man. It’s that simple.


One Brief Shining Moment

Today’s blog post is dedicated to Mike Willden, Chief of Staff for Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval and leader of the Camelot in my career.

My rose garden … in fact our whole yard … awakened last spring with gusto. The lush foliage and thick sprays of colorful blossoms rivaled the best botanical parks I’ve toured. All this because the Northern Nevada desert experienced one of the warmest, wettest winters on record.

20180512_161821Most amazing was the effect on my Lady Banks roses. If these two climbers produce anything, it’s usually a smattering of tiny, yellow blooms. This year they were covered with dozens of romantic bouquets.

Why was this so astonishing?

Lady Banks is rated down to Zone 6, and I live in 7, but it fares best in Zones 9 and up where the minimum year-round temperature is higher. Mega-grower Monrovia calls it a “nearly tropical” plant because it’s so vulnerable to frost.

I didn’t know this when I innocently bought two at a big box store in 2009. A few years later, after a particularly hard winter, I turned for advice to a respected local nursery because the plants looked like goners. They questioned why I bought them in the first place.

We don’t even sell those. You know those pictures of English cottages covered in rose vines? Those are typically Lady Banks.

They recommended replacement with something more desert friendly.

Well, I tried, but they were stubborn buggers. The stumps wouldn’t budge. I finally gave up. A few weeks later I decided to give it another go but, lo and behold, new shoots had appeared. If you want to stay so badly, I said aloud, have at it.

Then came the warm, wet winter of 2017-18. I imagine those ladies stretching downward with their roots and skyward with their vines while singing a plant version of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

The song playing in my own head was Camelot.

A law was made a distant moon ago here. July and August cannot be too hot. And there’s a legal limit to the snow here. In Camelot.

The experience brought to mind a joyful decade during my career when my colleagues and I confidently took bold risks and produced amazing outcomes. The power came from enlightened, supportive leadership. It was like the winter of 2017-18. Oh, what heights you can reach when the climate is perfect.

I have to wonder. Wouldn’t it be paradise if we lived in a world where support fell like warm rain in the tropics? Where leaders put themselves last and everyone else first? Where every home was a haven of love and encouragement? Where the streets were filled with kindness and acceptance? Where Camelot was never doomed and the sad reprise never sung?

For the sake of my Lady Banks, and all my other flowering bushes, I hope we have another warm, wet winter. After 21 years in this neck of the woods, I know it isn’t likely. Instead, I’ll be out there, watering during dry spells, trying to mimic Mother Nature and recreate this year’s one brief shining moment. Won’t you join me? In the garden. Or wherever Camelot beckons.