A few years ago my friend Patty started a lovely tradition in her St. Augustine neighborhood. During the summer she gathers blooms from her garden—the results of seeds planted in early spring—arranges them simply in dear bouquets and places them in an array of containers—glass vessels that previously held olives, wine, jam. The flowers are placed on a small table by the side of the road and a hand painted sign hangs nearby encouraging passer-byers to select a bunch to carry home. Patty’s “giving garden” is a sweet gesture that brings joy to friends and strangers alike.
I, too, have a small garden and this season have enjoyed charming flowers of every hue. Patty’s “giving garden” inspired me and caused me to wonder, “Could I do the same?” So I gathered jars, made a crude sign (not as cute as Patty’s but workable) and set about making a few small vases. A pine table was placed at the end of my own driveway and upon it I placed four delightful bunches. I then waited.
Now placing free flowers at the end of one’s drive may sound like a simple act of random kindness, something even a child could do, but I was shocked at how vulnerable it made me feel. Would my neighbors, rushing by on their morning power walks, find me silly? Would those casually strolling find my small vases unappealing? What if no one took them? Would they reject my flowers . . . and, on some level, reject me?
Laugh if you will but I confess that setting those flowers out made me feel incredibly vulnerable. I even texted Patty and asked her if she’d ever felt nervous. Her response encouraged.
“Of course I have. We all want to be appreciated or have our ideas embraced and it’s scary to think something we do might be rejected. It’s kind of risky putting those flowers out there.”
Risk. Risky. These words are often used to describe negative situations. At risk. Potential risk. Risky business. A risk is an act that appears to come with, well, risks. Making a risky choice could bring with it the chance of loss or failure. The flip side, however, is that risks can open doors to exciting new possibilities.
I don’t consider myself a risk-taker. Just like my hesitancy of setting out hand-picked flowers as gifts to strangers, my fear of rejection – of people not liking me – too often drives my personal agenda.
What will they think?
How will that look?
Will they approve?
There is another version of myself, however, that believes risks are blessings. Move to Papua New Guinea as a single woman? Why not? Get married in the jungle? Sure. Kenya? I hear the weather’s nice. Adoption? If you can’t bring yourself to say no the answer is probably yes. Leave the Department and move to the east coast of Florida? Even at that, this Gulf of Mexico girl said yes. Looking back, I can attest that the very things that have brought the most intense joy and peace have been things that involved a huge leap of faith. There have been hardships aplenty but most of those were not the result of taking a chance. Most hardships are simply the things of life.
I now find myself making another choice. For several years I’ve been involved with the work of the nonprofit Center for the Collaborative Classroom (CCC), an organization that brings together social-emotional learning with relevant literacy instruction. I have watched dedicated teachers transform their classrooms as they apply best practice instruction built on a foundation of social emotional strategies. CCC believes that how we teach matters as much as what we teach. When the opportunity arose to join this non-profit as an educational consultant, there were obvious questions. At my age? Isn’t it safer to stay in a state retirement system? What if it doesn’t work out?
At the end of the day it was an easy decision. My work with public schools, and especially my work with St. Johns County School District, has been beyond rewarding; I am a better educator because of my colleagues and their wisdom. Leaving is bittersweet indeed. But my passion in supporting educators as they support students and families, especially as the assault against public schools grows louder and uglier, leads me down a new path. Our profession needs to equip students to listen with integrity and disagree respectfully; working with Collaborative Classroom will allow me to be a part of that much needed and important conversation. I am excited and incredibly humbled at the opportunity.
The first day I placed flowers by the side of the road only two vases were picked up; one by a known neighbor and the other by a little girl walking by with her mother. I called a friend and told her to come by and pick up the other two. A few weeks later I decided to try it again. I placed the flowers out and actually forgot about them until a few hours had passed. While working in the yard, I watched a man and his dog amble by. The man stopped and I heard him say to his pooch, “Look at these. I think we should take these home.”
I stepped out where he could see me and said, “I’m so glad you stopped.”
He replied, “My wife loves fresh flowers and she’s not feeling too well today. I think these will cheer her up. Thanks!”
My risk at being laughed at resulted in cheering someone up. Hopefully my risk in forging down a new career path will result in change that makes a difference. The bottom line is that none of us will know unless we just do it. Take a risk; you may be surprised where it leads.