Birney Imes: The power of a few well-chosen words

September 3, 2011 11:26:00 PM

Birney Imes - [email protected]


The moon vine in the backyard has entwined the empty chicken coop and is now launching an assault on the Mexican petunia next to it. The vine''s large blooms are white and diaphanous, like tissues left on a make-up table in the dressing room of a Broadway star. 


I''m only imaging this, though once I had occasion to go backstage before a Broadway play. It was a subterranean chaos, chattering people in various states of undress scurrying to and fro in a catacomb of small, low ceiling rooms. I''ve also stood outside the stage entrance after a performance watching fans and actors as they emerged from the theater. Moments earlier they had been elegant and dignified, full of purpose, the height of sophistication. In the light of the street, they were kids with backpacks, in T-shirts, jeans and Nikes. 


In its own way, a flower garden, too, has all the magic of the theater. With its ever-changing cast of butterflies, hummingbirds and bees, a garden has all the elements that draw humans to Times Square: drama, beauty, sex. Though the action may be more discreet, it''s all there for the patient and knowing observer. 


Standing amid the color, beauty and movement, a flower garden can be a meditation, a gentle way to ease into a stressful day. Most mornings a perky hummingbird -- think Rodgers and Hammerstein -- is usually the first actor to take the stage. Clad in an iridescent green coat, he hovers in front of the Turk''s cap, trumpet vine and the black and blue salvia. Most days he''s all business -- pausing between each flower to take stock; occasionally he will linger for a second at eye-level an arm''s length away, as if to say, "What are you doing here? Friend or foe?" 


In the South, gardening is one of the many distractions we have to help us endure our crazy hot summers. There are plenty of others -- among them, watermelon, ice cream, fireflies and America singing "Ventura Highway." 


I love to get emails with a quote at the bottom. Here''s one that accompanied a recent message from Allison Barnette, a Caledonia 8th Grade Social Studies teacher: 


"If you want to build a ship, don''t drum up people to collect wood, and don''t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." 


-- Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900-1944); aviator, writer 


Amazing the power of a few well-chosen words strung together in the right order: "... the endless immensity of the sea." Makes you want to get on a sailboat and head for the south Pacific. 


NPR''s Scott Simon the other day offered a tribute to Jack Layton, a Canadian politician who recently died from cancer at the age of 61. This from Simon''s report: 


Layton joined the liberal New Democratic Party, and lost several elections -- for Parliament, and mayor of Toronto--before winning his first seat in the House of Commons in 2004. 


He brought the New Democrats to their biggest victory in history in May. But by July, Jack Layton''s cancer returned. Two days before he died, he wrote a letter that his family released this week. It is graceful, blunt and personal. 


"Unfortunately my treatment has not worked out," he writes, but tells others afflicted with cancer, "please don''t be discouraged that my own journey hasn''t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better. ... My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer." 


And then, a man who gave his life to politics closes with what amounts to a personal credo: 


"My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we''ll change the world. 


"All my very best, 


"Jack Layton." 


Maybe I''ll use Jack Layton''s quote at the bottom of my e-mails: "Let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we''ll change the world."

Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.