Dandelions and Other Wild Flowers
Lowell J. Anderson
The year just ended – 2012 – was a dry year. Certainly we experienced a drought. It was also a dry year for lucid political thinking, and rational financial and economic management. It was a year of uncertainties! Or as the Queen once called such a year: annus horribilus.
It was probably made more horrible because with TV and social media everything was with us 24/7. There was little escape – other than mowing the lawn.
I wrote this article in September of 1990 for the “Minnesota Pharmacist” journal. I think after 22 years it may still have relevance. Here it is again. Enjoy.
Summer 1990 was the year I became reacquainted with my lawn. After three years of drought, mowing once a week somehow seemed to signify a return to normalcy.
When viewed from the detached perspective of the passerby, lawns are expanses of green, categorized by degree of imperfection. Most fall short of the perfection of the 18th green at the golf club.
Lawns are similar to pets in that they seem to take on the personality of their owners. There are lawns that are so perfectly maintained that even a wild flower would wilt at the prospect of invading these suburban Gardens of Eden. These types of lawns seem to be owned by either corporate accountants, people who vote independent or people who hire a lawn service.
There are lawns that seem to look almost like patches of prairie. They have a broad representation of living things: dandelions, creeping Charlie, a clump of daisies here and there. These are the people that I want to get to know. They seem to understand that perfection is a character flaw; and that diversity and lack of total control are virtues. These people have discovered that everything inherently has something to appreciate – something of value: even a weed.
To do your own mowing causes you to eventually begin to appreciate that in everything there can be beauty. When you mow a lawn each week for an entire summer you become intimately aware of each part of it. Each microclimate, weedwould-be-flower, each bald spot becomes a landmark to be given consideration with each mowing. You begin to plan: fertilize this part a bit heavier this fall, and seed that part. Lawn mowing, in this respect, is a lot like running a business or a life.
Paying attention to parts of things is important and rewarding because it will eventually be reflected in the whole.
I marvel that the plants purchased from the nursery can grow so slowly. Yet, in just the period between mowings a plant that has gone unnoticed in our lawn can shoot up to a foot in height and bloom. I have had young employees like that – blossoming in the most surprising ways.
I sometime wonder if we delight in cutting these assertive plants down because we take offense at their assault on our sense of uniformity and propriety. There is a story of a Russian Tsar who liked to ride his horse through fields of wheat and with his sword cut off the heads of the taller wheat stalks. This Tsar ran his country so as to assure uniformity. To stand above the crowd was an assault to his order of things. Excellence was discouraged.
Much of the present philosophy in our country seems to increasingly advocate “loping off the heads” of the people who stand above the crowd -- those who are striving for excellence. A good example is how corporate America and government, through various controls and reimbursement schemes discourages health practitioners who attempt to provide a level of care above the average. Uniformity and average have become goals of our system and in our lives and profession, just as in many of our lawns.
We have a cat at home named Guido. (After he was “fixed”, we named him for one of the great seventeenth-century Italian castrati.) Guido will sit and look out a window for hours. I think his mind is on test pattern. Maybe he is recharging his psychic batteries after a tough evening of consulting!
Mowing a lawn has similar psychic rejuvenating properties for me. The drone of the mower is monotonous and blocks out most other sounds. The endless back and forth of side-by-side straight lines the sameness of which is only punctuated by that which wasn’t there last week. It becomes a kind of sensory deprivation – much like a long shower. I do some of my most creative thinking while mowing the lawn (Some of it even useful.) Just consider dedicating three hours every week to creative thinking. Whew! Think about the stress if one felt compelled to act on the results of that much creative thinking.
Senator John Brandl, in his April 1990 retirement speech from the Minnesota Senate said: “In politics one must struggle to maintain a normal private life. Busyness can crowd out reflection. The attention of others can substitute for an inferior life. The thought flickers in the back of the politician’s mind: I shouldn’t have to carry out the trash, make the bed, and mow the lawn. The grand responsibilities and acclaim that come with holding public office can unhealthily substitute for intimacy, ordinary friendships, and meeting the simple responsibilities of life.”
The life of a politician, as Senator Brandl describes it, bears some similarity to the life of a health practitioner. We too get caught up in busyness. The busyness of running our practice and dealing with third parties. The busyness of trying to deliver excellence in a system that does not reward excellence. The gratitude of a patient often times compensates for the forever-missed gratitude of a child or a spouse when we again miss just spending time with them. The gratitude of a patient is nice – but not the same.
The grand responsibility of being a health practitioner does not absolve us from the need to “take out the trash, or mow the lawn,” or nurture our families and friends. Instead the grand responsibility of being a health practitioner requires us to meet these simple responsibilities of our own life.
In 1990 (and 2013) it is so easy to get involved in – to become obsessed with – the big problems of politics, economics and health care. In reality, the times demand that as real people we spend time mowing our lawns.
Not only our own lawns, but those of our profession as well.
Lowell J. Anderson, D.Sc., FAPhA, FFIP, is Co-director of the Center for Leading Healthcare Change, University of Minnesota. He practiced in community pharmacy for most of his career. He is a former president of MPhA, Mn Board of Pharmacy and APhA. In addition he has held positions in the Accrediting Council on Pharmacy Education, National Association of Board of Pharmacy and the United States Pharmacopeia. Currently he is co-editor of the International Pharmacy Journal of FIP. He is the 2004 Remington Medalist.