When I first took up gardening 25 years ago, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. With the exception of having a knack for arranging the cuttings from my mother's rose bushes and lilac trees in a vase when I was younger, my knowledge of gardening was zero. When the urge to commune with the dirt took hold of me, I was like a human vacuum cleaner sucking up everything I could find about gardening. I had no problem responding with: "I don't know" when people asked me what I was doing all those early spring and summer mornings on my knees with spade in hand. All I knew back then was that if I put in the hours, learned what I could and planted it all with love, something good had to come of it.
Lately, as I've begun work on transforming my daughter's yard, it has come to my attention that I have forgotten a great deal of what I've learned over the years. There was a time I could name almost every plant in the nursery without looking at the tags, or identify plants and foliage in other people's gardens that we saw as we passed them by. When my daughter asks me now, "Mom, what's that one with the pretty colored ball-shaped flowers; you know, like the ones you used to have," I am reluctant to admit, "I don't know," lest she think I have grown senile or forgetful.
Why is it so hard for us to say those three little words: I don't know," as if the saying of them was some kind of negative judgment about us? How often have people plunged recklessly ahead into some endeavor rather than admit that they didn't know what they were doing and were too ashamed to admit it? How much anguish could be avoided if folks looked at I don't know as the first step on a wonderful and challenging adventure into the unknown instead of a statement about their intelligence? And if I don't know is the first step on the adventure, what is the second step? The second step is: What if?
Every invention and advancement that we enjoy in our lives today started out with these two steps. First, someone had to acknowledge that they didn't know something, and then they had to imagine what might happen if they did? From there we now communicate with people all over the world at the touch of a keyboard on our phones or computers, send people into space, cure diseases, and help the wounded to not only walk again, but to run! All of it started by someone admitting: "I don't know, but, what if?"
The other day as my daughter and I went on a walk around my neighborhood, she pointed out a bush in front of someone's house, "There, that's the one I was talking about," she said. "Aren't they peonies?" Sure enough, that's exactly what they were, and as soon as I saw them, I remembered what they were called even before she said it. It wasn't a case of "I don't know" as much as the fact that I hadn't used that particular file in my mental file drawer for a while and it got pushed to the back. After almost 68 years, I would imagine there are a lot of files like that one that will probably need to be rotated to the front every now and then, and probably a lot more that I can shred because they no longer serve me. The first one to go is the one that sees me as inferior just because I don't know something. That one is going to be replace with one that says: "What if?"
And so it is.