Vail Valley Voices: Tough times can pollinate better future |

Vail Valley Voices: Tough times can pollinate better future

Jack R. Van Ens
Vail, CO, Colorado

When tough times hit, a lesson gleaned from history helps pull us through. Historian Charles A. Beard summed up what the past teaches with a proverb: “The bee fertilizes the flower it robs.”

Bitter times act like a thief, stealing better moments from us. Such unfair events may act, though, like a bee pollinating a flower. This insect’s thirst for nectar, which it robs from buds, pollinates flowers.

Camouflaged amid what’s bitter is what’s better ahead. This hope repeatedly plays out in history’s ebb and flow. Such an insight spurred the Apostle Paul, when tough times hit his ministry, to declare: “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart” (II Corinthians 4:1).

President Barack Obama catches what “the bee fertilizes the flower it robs” means. Writing about building an optimistic national attitude in tough times, he pinpoints what defines America’s people: “Our spirit, a restless searching for the right solution to any problem; an inclination to dream big dreams, and an insistence on making those dreams come true; an enduring faith, even in the darkest hours, that brighter days lie ahead” (Smithsonian Magazine, July-August 2010, p. 59).

Many on the Gulf Coast have lost heart. Can you blame these folks? Tough times have acted like a stinging bee. Barely recovered from Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, Gulf Coast residents now are losing their beaches, their fishing beds, and their hopes. Suicides are up and mental depression abounds.

How do these folks get energy to believe “the bee fertilizes the flower it robs?”

Thomas Jefferson may benefit those who are blind to the truth of this proverb. The presidential election of 1800 tarred his reputation. He felt robbed when Christian groups branded him a heretic. Political opponents warned he would import to our shores the French Revolution’s violence and immorality.

When tough times clobbered Jefferson, his body gave in. He suffered from migraine headaches. Nervous exhaustion reached down into his diaphragm. Diarrhea struck.

At the start of Jefferson’s presidency, nerves messed up his intestinal track. A physician recommended horseback riding as a possible cure. The president, who loved being astride his mount at Monticello, took frequent rides around the federal district. His constituency noticed their president near at hand, taking a keen interest in them. He didn’t stay bunkered in the President’s House. Citizens complimented Jefferson for not staging his visits, riding in a luxurious coach pulled by a six-horse team, which previous presidents used acting as if they were royalty.

In time, Jefferson won commoners’ support for frugality, even as intestinal irritation cleared up. The bee, diarrhea, robbed Jefferson of comfort. Given time, citizens complimented him for using a simple, not lavish, mode of transportation when visiting them.

Learning wisdom emanating from “the bee fertilizes the flower it robs” comes when we master history. History isn’t a series of boring dates or yesteryear’s numbing events.

Historian David McCullough, speaking in Denver on Oct.1, 2008, observed how we err when dismissing the past. It once was the present for those who endured hard times. Doesn’t it make sense, then, to stay in touch with those who survived their massive oil spills? Can’t we learn from previous havoc how the future rouses hope?

A few months ago, I spoke with a 93-year-old woman who grew up on a farm in South Dakota. The Dust Bowl swept through her family’s home. Roaring winds choked with topsoil coated her farmhouse, even when her dad boarded up windows.

Through this terrible scourge, this women’s family survived because they had each other. Hard times didn’t disappear, but they seemed less harsh when farmers were mired in the mess together. How did “pollination” occur during the 1930s Dust Bowl when the bee of destruction robbed farmers of their livelihoods? It came through the wisdom of crop rotation, letting the land rejuvenate by lying fallow and adopting new water rights so more land became fertile.

When we lose heart, our perspective thins. Hard times pinch us, narrowing our sight. Remember: “The bee fertilizes the flower it robs.” Such wisdom helps find opportunity hidden within obstacles. Something better awaits our discovery.

If we avoid history’s lessons and rivet attention on present calamity, spirits wilt. Hopes get dashed. Such dementia sets in the national mood when pervasive amnesia makes us forget the past. The former Library of Congress historian Daniel Boorstin teaches how “trying to plan for the future without a sense of the past is like trying to plant cut flowers.”

Don’t wilt like a cluster of cut flowers when drought strikes. Dig deep. Be rooted in the past. Use it to give staying power when another Dust Bowl swirls as oil spews. Then repeat to yourself what history teaches: “The bee fertilizes the flower it robs.”

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the non-profit,Creative Growth (, which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations. “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is in local bookstores for $7.95.

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