Under the Glass: News from the Greenhouse

Leah Diehl

During the past year we have all been forced to practice patience as we wait to understand more about Covid-19, vaccines, variants, and transmission, and this required patience has impacted just about every aspect of our lives. Thinking about the concept of patience reminded me of a newsletter article I read many years ago, written by Sister Rosemary Connelly, the executive director of Misericordia Home. My younger brother, who has developmental and physical disabilities, lives at Misericordia, which is a wonderful residential facility in Chicago, full of loving and patient people.

In her article, Sister Rosemary Connelly wrote eloquently about the importance of patience in life. That really hit a chord with me because I can be quite impatient at times even though I think of myself as a patient person. How can that be? After giving it some thought I realized that I am very patient with people but can be quite impatient with situations. Standing in line at the grocery store, for example. Getting stuck in traffic. Waiting on a slow Internet connection. What is impatience about? It is about not wanting to wait for something you feel should be happening more quickly while all the things you would like to be doing are running through your head.

Sister Rosemary reminded me about the incredible patience of those individuals living at Misericordia and by extension the many people we interact with through our therapeutic horticulture work. So many of these people spend a significant part of their lives waiting for things; waiting for somebody to take them to an activity, bring them a meal, or just converse with them. And a surprising number of them wait patiently and when it is their turn, they reward us with a smile, a kind word, or their gratitude. For me, the lessons to be learned here are first to recognize and acknowledge patience in those individuals we work with, and second to realize that they have a gift to give us if we are open to receiving it: life is short but precious and we should focus more on what is happening now, not what should be happening now.

Sister Joan, another wise sister at Misericordia would tell you this is about living in the now. Not always thinking about how it was before or what should be happening next, but instead fully focusing on the present; on what is going on now. Savoring the moment, as my husband would say. Zen Buddhists might tell us that instead of feeling annoyed with having to wash the dishes, we should take the opportunity to listen to the music of the water, feel it on our skin, notice it sparkle with the soap, and feel satisfied about a job well done.

These issues have never been more significant in our lives than now. No matter the stage of life we are in – at home with young children out of school, separated from our grandchildren, isolated from our coworkers or friends – it is difficult to practice patience as the months go by and we think about time lost. But there are small gifts within these experiences that we must recognize as well – I am certainly spending more time with my teen children then I ever would have, and I am spending a lot more time Zooming with my father and other family members when I never did before. I am also spending a lot more time outdoors and appreciating the escape and comfort that nature can provide.

These concepts fit in well with our therapeutic horticulture work as we talk about the cycles of nature and the things they require, including patience. We have no choice but to wait for the seeds we plant to sprout or the flower buds to appear and then open. Successful and satisfying horticultural work requires patience and encourages anticipation, and then its rewards are great. We are patient with the individuals we work with and with their special needs, and we often must be patient with the workings of the organization in which we function. Patience is an essential component of our job descriptions and without it we cannot be successful in our therapeutic horticulture programs. But let’s not forget the patience of those we work with and the lesson that it teaches us about focusing on the moment. Let that be an inspiration to us as we approach work and life, especially in these extraordinary times.

Live in the now and savor the moments as often as you can.

Elizabeth “Leah” Diehl, RLA, HTM
Lecturer, Dept. of Environmental Horticulture, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Director of Therapeutic Horticulture, Wilmot Botanical Gardens, College of Medicine