• Tammy Davis

Basil and the Botanist

Basil makes everything better – pasta, pizza, salads. I love clipping it and sharing with friends. The more I cut it, the happier my basil seems to be. It stays bushy and dark green, never leggy or yellow. I learned years ago, just from trial and error, that if my basil ever flowered you might as well throw it out. I have tossed out many a plant for this very reason. The taste is never the same once it flowers. I’m no botanist so I never knew why you didn’t want your basil to flower. I just knew that it changed the taste.

I’ve been hearing about Dr. Patrick McMillan for years. I signed up for one of his expeditions at Lake Jocasee through Facebook. I had to cancel the adventure, but Patrick and I became Facebook friends.

Patrick gave me the botanical explanation about my basil which went right over my head, and then he tried again in layman’s turns. Basically, a plant can put its energy into flowering or it can spend its efforts producing leaves.

I believe it’s good to have smart friends. Patrick definitely falls into that category. I also believe we should try to learn from Mother Nature whenever we can because she is one smart moma. All I knew was that my basil was happier when I was cutting it and pinching it and stripping its leaves and sharing with others. I had no idea it was designed that way. I think that our herb friend basil might be trying to tell us something.

What if human beings are more like that basil than we realize? What if we are meant to be shared with others? What if getting pinched and cut back is somehow good for us?

Getting this mini lesson in botany made me think of how we live our lives. The more we give of ourselves the better we feel. I wonder if we are more like this herb than we want to admit. Holding on tight with locked fists and closed hearts changes us and can make us bitter. We are not created to be selfish and closed. The goal shouldn’t be to become a showy, beautiful flower. We are created to be open - to new adventures, to new love, to fresh starts. I believe we are created to give, whether that means giving our money or our time or a listening ear or a quick lesson in botany. We are created to be givers, not hoarders. Basil that is not picked “goes to seed” and turns bitter. It’s no good to anyone. I wonder if we are the same.

It’s just human nature – we all want to hold onto what is ours, and we all want to flower. We want to show off, whether that’s our looks or our money or our success. But what if basil knows best.

My basil on my deck is quick to give me a reminder when I haven’t been clipping enough. A little bud of a flower pops up on top – my reminder to get busy and start cutting! I wish we had that in our lives, a little reminder to get out of our heads and think about someone else.

Nobody likes hard times. Nobody likes to think about being pruned or clipped, but maybe something beautiful does come from crisis. It might be human nature to want to avoid having our leaves stripped or being cut down by half. We want to flower and be beautiful. By maybe basil knows a better way.

My friend Patrick leads a charmed life for sure. He has traveled the world with his PBS show “Expeditions with Patrick McMillan.” He has friends in high places who have afforded him opportunities most cannot imagine. But I don’t think he would consider these accomplishments as the flowers of his life. Even though he doesn’t reveal this side often, I think he is most proud of his work as a former teacher in downtown Winston-Salem. Today, I think he flourishes when he is working with his prison ministry program. McMillan doesn’t just share what he knows about plants. That would be enough to make anyone proud, but McMillan is more like that basil plant. He lets himself get picked and clipped by the emotionally draining job that is ministering to others. When he was beginning his teaching career, he let himself get knocked down time and time again by the kids who needed him most. Then and now, intrinsically, like the basil, he knows that to be his best self, he needs to share himself. He knows he needs to share all of himself, not just his brain.

Next time I see Patrick, I will make sure to send him home with a fresh bag of basil. Botanist that he is, he will probably propagate a clipping and that would make me happy. I think we all need a little basil in our lives. We all need that good reminder. It’s easy for us to want to flower and shine all the time – to do what we want to do. But that’s not mother nature’s way, and it’s not the way of the basil.


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