Friday, April 01, 2011

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (4/30/2011)

“Dysfunctional family” is an epithet often thrown around nowadays, masquerading as a diagnosis. The problem: it’s meaningless because all families are dysfunctional in one way or another. It’s a diagnosis without a difference.

We perceive our experiences through the prism of metaphors. In human relationships, it’s dysfunctional think of human relationships in terms of the machine in which everything works together without intra-related intimacy, the parts being interchangeable. It’s also dysfunctional to think of human relationships in terms of a cupboard or a parts department, pigeon-holing people as thought they unrelated to one another. More functional metaphors for a family are an organism or a fabric, an intra-related whole.

Dysfunctional families pretty much parallel our gardens. When we first moved to Flagstaff 8 years ago, one of the first things I did was to plant a rhododendron and
several forsythias largely because I was still enthralled with the beauty of Princeton in the spring, a halcyon experience now 64 years old. A hymn reads, “New occasions teach new duties, and time makes ancient good uncouth.” I’d forgotten that.

I enjoyed Latin in school, but not my sons. A year of frustrations and anger was misspent enforcing Latin because I thought my sons should like what I liked. I wanted them to become what I had in mind. A folly is when we impose our expectations on others contrary to their interests, abilities, and inclinations. Happily, they’ve forgiven me. Indeed, when they were in their early twenties, I took them out to dinner with my daughter and asked their forgiveness for all the ill-tempered, cruel, stupid things I had done. I would recommend such an event for every parent.

So it is with gardens. Lots of wonderful plants don’t do well or not at all in Flagstaff, and lots do. I kept that poor rhododendron alive for four years as it withered year after year. The forsythia, Shasta daises, blanket flowers, penstemon, and Arizona fescue have prospered beyond my expectations. One sure sign of dysfunction, nay, insanity, is to keep repeating a failure expecting a success. In short, try what works under the circumstances.

Our sense of beauty needs to change when we move from one place to another. I was raised in California with orange trees, Meyer lemons, camellias, bougainvillea, avocados, and azaleas. I miss them, but that should not blind me to the beauty of the ponderosa pines, Gambel oaks, sheep fescue, and quaking aspen.

When I moved to Tucson years ago after 8 years in the East and Middle West, I first thought the desert was a waste. After a year, I began to see its beauty, and when I left, I missed its beauty. I still smell creosote bush when it rains. So it is with the High Country. No azaleas, but, ah, the wildflowers.

Also, that maple I planted the same time as the rhododendron and the forsythias now shades a once beautiful flower bed into which I had shoveled lots of compost. The flowers are now pitiful, pathetic, and dysfunctional. I have to transplant them and put in what the arborists call “understory” plants. We seldom think of it, but gardens evolve just as does families. We even have to re-appreciate our sense of beauty.

Gardening is a shifting enterprise. However, some battles remain the same, aphids and grasshoppers are constants.

Since we’re all dysfunctional, it’s important to look at the whole of the garden and family. Sometimes plants don’t prosper no matter how much care they’re given. No point in blaming the plant or Flagstaff. The big dysfunction is in not accepting one’s dysfunction. As Oliver Cromwell told the Westminster Parliament, “I beseech you, in the blood of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.” The Westminster Parliament didn’t. We should.

Families bond much like a soldier’s “band of brothers” where forgiveness, tolerance, and trust are the sine qua non of survival and prevalence. So, too, is a garden. Not every member is the same. Gardens themselves are organisms. It’s important to treasure our gardens which are as much members of the family as are our children, parents, cats and dogs.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011

1 comment:

Jan Busco said...

Beautiful, Dana! I can share this with other gardeners, and with the members of our very own dysfunctional family. There's something here for everybody!

And thanks -- I had just decided I needed a positive quote to put at the end of my emails to go with my environmentally forboding accusatory one, I read your essay, and low and behold “New occasions teach new duties, and time makes ancient good uncouth” seems like a winner.

Ask, and it shall be given to you...

Fondly - jan