The first time I heard the phrase “perfection of culture” was when I was a little girl. My dad was watching “Victory Garden”, and Jim Crockett, the host, was at the Arnold Arboretum. On display in the long hall of their conservatory was their collection of Japanese chrysanthemums. I thought I had never seen anything so beautiful. A detailed description of how it was achieved was lost on me, but what I found was something I carried with me ever after: an unshakable belief in the infinite possible.
Fast forward to this summer, when we tackled our “tomato problem”: a perfect site with terrible soil. We dug out the bad stuff, replaced it with the best stuff, tended it consistently, and it boomed. Vines euphemistically called “indeterminate” began reaching for our borders. Voilà – another “tomato problem”. That was when Mother Nature laughed her laugh and sent us a solution both useful and beautiful: Volunteer morning glory vines appeared in the bed, and as they climbed they tied the tomato vines to the towers and to each other far more efficiently than we could ever have done. It was in that tangle of red and green and blue and sunlight that I saw what I soon recognized was very much at work all around me, what I have come to call “abundance”.
Define, Refine, Distill
The dictionary definition of abundance says it means “more than sufficient”. Mm, that’s a start. It was from watching my mother that I learned another piece: the joy of generosity, of having “enough to share”. That’s closer, but still not it.
Sometimes you have to stand very still to hear what is there. I did. Abundance, I was shown, is not plenty; plenty is the harvest. Plenty is what you bring to the table. Abundance is the well-spring. It is what you draw on.
As we finish another volume of Northwest Dentistry, I can look back on a work table piled with manuscripts and proofs and emails and post-its, (often stuck to my elbows) - and on six finished books chronicling the abundance of a profession and a community that never ceases to surprise and amaze me. We have presented the groundbreakers and the builders, and celebrated a legacy of discovery. First-time authors shared our pages with careers’ worth of information and the wisdom to use it well. We explored connections on every level, scientific to philosophical: from whole-body health to ethics and its endless challenge to who we are.
There’s That Word Again
Behind the “abundance of caution” with which we seem to need to proceed these days, there is also, it seems to me, an abundance of good will, an infinite willingness to break down barriers. I have come to believe there is no such thing as a small act of kindness. Whether Mission of Mercy, Give Kids a Smile, MDF, or individual missions and humanitarian work, we live from an impulse for abundance, of “There should be more”, and of making that visible, apparent, to those who cannot see it, or who can’t see it anymore. Among its tools is courage. From the members of Dentists Concerned for Dentists to the survivors of the Rwandan holocaust, the determination to heal saw that seeming impossibility begin to materialize.
Abundance, methinks, is also about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Look at our networks, (and we do): the grassroots work of our MDA members, the talents of our journal’s contributors, the centennials, the torch-passing, and oh, those students. How about this for a network to celebrate: our mentors. Because no matter how good you are, someone else has to believe in you too. Recognizing that generosity in ourselves and in others creates an energy that we can keep drawing on.
Then there are the surprises. Each annual President’s Interview, for instance, results in someone saying, “I didn’t know that about him, and I’ve known him for years!” We love our “ripple effect”, often discovering, even years later, what something in NWD has inspired someone to do.
The printed page will wait for us to come back to something, or someone, we have had to rush past in the press of the day, and take in what it has been waiting for us to see – especially the good.
Science, History, and “If Only … “
When brainstorming an issue, a volume, or a mission for a journal like Northwest Dentistry — exactly like Northwest Dentistry — it quicklyboils down to a directive like “Tell me something I don’t know”. That’s when you reach for research. And not just in formal clinical trials or “finished products”, but for the thoughts that move us to take on the unknown, and in the process discover unexpected paths, gifts that help us do “even more”. How’s that for abundance? Dedicate a blank piece of paper to a collection of words associated with “research”, and see what a treasure trove of inspiration you get. Sprinkle liberally with an abundance of viewpoints, individuality, and variation, and see what appears. Openness, imagination … it is there for the taking, for the use of it, and the joy of it.
Used Toothbrushes and Fruitcake**
Like the awesome number of “use-ful” uses for an old toothbrush, we are, if we allow ourselves to be, filled “-ful” with the hopeful, thoughtful, wonderful possible. The essence of abundance is seeing over and over again that there will always be something new, because someone always comes up with “something new”. From our ability, talent, and willingness to “go there”, wherever that impulse takes us, we can bring another year to a close knowing that we belong to something greater than a collection of days or a sequence of events. So when you propose a toast to another new year, welcome it. Touch glasses; let the moment ring clear and bright.
Listen for it.
**Included for no other reason than that there is always a fruitcake at this time of year.