“Tomate la leche, pero no mates la vaca.” Josefina Ramos “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
It takes a special kind of crazy person to be a fulltime gardener, someone who understands that basking in the summer sunshine or crisp autumn air is always tempered by those arthritic days of winter – when the everpresent aches in your knees and knuckles become a sort of seasonal penance. Accordingly, I have been ‘special’ for over thirty years now, but I never really minded the winter work when I was a younger estate gardener or landscaper. That said, the older nursery manager incarnation of me sometimes struggles with the dark days of January and February, when garden centres everywhere become the loneliest places on the planet. With nothing but the icy north wind, an occasional Steller’s jay and CBC radio (even Rex Murphy starts sounding like an old friend) to keep you company, it can be difficult to endure eight hours of outdoor solitary confinement.
Enter Carlos, a local landscaper with a penchant for showing-up with a steaming cup of coffee when I least expect it (but appreciate it the most). Quite often, he’d make an appearance late in the day – still wet and cold from his own work – just to shake my hand, say hi and drop off a tall Starbucks. Over the years I was the recipient of many cups of coffee and while I did my best to return the favour from time to time, what always made them taste that much better was the simple generosity of the man who brought them – so one day I just asked Carlos why he was such a thoughtful person. He told me that he learned the gift of giving from his mother Josephina, who always told him when he was a boy growing up in Mexico to “drink the milk, but don’t kill the cow” (in Spanish, of course).
The sarcastic genius of this Mexican proverb lays in its not-too-subtle approach of stating the obvious – if we do nothing but take, eventually the giving will come to an end. It almost sounds like a ready-made slogan for my generation, the baby boomers, who just may end up being the only pack of peers to successfully ‘milk the cow to death’ by depleting the resources of an entire planet simply to ensure that they get everything they want, when they want it and for as long as they think they need it. Given the precarious state of the biosphere that they will inevitably leave behind, it might be best to let the meek inherit the earth – but we should at least leave the rest of the universe to those who really deserve it, the generous.