A Week for Reflection
The SafeLawns Foundation Turns 5 Today
THIS WILL BE ONE OF THOSE WEEKS in life where reflections slap you in the face, hit you over the head and buckle your knees. For me, it’s a time when life’s work and clock will make a rare convergence to force a rather peripatetic person to just stop, at least in my mind, and reflect on it all.
Today the SafeLawns Foundation turns five. At approximately 3 a.m. on a February morning of 2006 I sat up in bed in some hotel room and stated aloud “SafeLawns” for the first time. No one was around to listen at that moment, but since Feb. 27, 2006, when the web site SafeLawns.org went live, millions of people around the globe have heard plenty about everything from the benefits of organic fertilizers, to the evils of synthetic chemical pesticides, to why New York’s passage of the Child Safe Playing Fields Act is a law that needs to be adopted by every single state in the union. It’s a flabbergastingly obvious no-brainer. Let’s protect our children at school from toxic pesticides. And so I’ve traveled . . . to 42 states and counting . . . with at least a thousand public appearances along the way . . . only to be often gobsmacked by much of America’s apathy for anything that doesn’t have directly to do with economy or celebrity.
This week, though, I’m home.
Sure, I’ll travel to Belfast on Tuesday evening at 6:30 to reinforce the anti-pesticide beliefs of a stellar cadre of Maine folks who have already gulped the organic lawn Kool-Aid. After that, I’ll be back and forth to the local airport welcoming friends from across the United States and Canada. On Thursday I turn 50. On Friday, my family and friends plan to help me acknowledge it. Mercy.
Among my father’s many ubiquitous sayings is one I’ve most taken to heart: “Life is a contest and he who creates the most good memories wins.” I can literally feel my heart swelling inside when I think of the personalities who plan to be in that room Friday evening. At 50, I sometimes have to question just how much progress we’re making toward making this planet safer from toxins, I might be frustrated about some of the politicians we elect or the products our leaders approve, but I’ve never had to doubt for one second who is making the most great memories.
I have one friend, Mike, who I’ve known for FORTY-THREE years. We rarely see each other anymore, but it doesn’t take 43 seconds to start laughing and reminiscing when we do. I have a bunch of friends, Cameron, Erik, another Mike, Dave and Tim, most of whom I didn’t even like very much when I met them more than THIRTY years ago. I laugh about that now with these guys, who are as much like family to me as my family.
I’m emboldened by how many people at the party will likely be folks I’ve met in just the past TWENTY, TEN OR FIVE years, when my pesticide-induced illness spurred activism and so much action. Some of the people who will be there don’t even agree with me on many issues, but the mutual respect will allow us to create some new memories together on Friday night. Still others will be front-line comrades, eco-warriors who are united by the absolute belief that we’re on the right side of history in our fight to reduce pesticide use. I like to go it alone in this world; I always have. At 50, though, I’m finally smart enough to know how much allies can help when the cause is so big, so important.
I’ll admit that I’m most excited that the people who are with me every single second in spirit will be there in person Friday night. My mother, my siblings and my children have all had to sacrifice for — and endure — me through all these years of a new idea, a new cause, or one more plane trip after another.
Five years ago when I phoned home from that hotel room and said “SafeLawns Foundation” to another person for the first time, the woman on the other end of the line might have shot down the whole thing. By then, she had heard more business and activism ideas than she could probably bear. Instead, said Katie Hoffmann, “I like it . . . That will work. This time, you’ve really got a good one.”
A month after that call, Katie and I were married during what constituted one of the five greatest memories of my life. The other four are easy to recount: Christina, April 16, 1985, Duke, Jan. 14, 1993, Aimee, Dec. 18, 2006, and Angie, Aug. 13, 2009. Katie has held things together for the family every step of the way, whether I was off filming a show for HGTV or the world premiere of a movie in Montreal, or talking about pesticide toxicity to 1,200 people in Ohio, or five people and 195 empty chairs in a high school cafeteria in Houston.
So in addition to the fifth anniversary of SafeLawns and the 50th birthday, I’ve also got the fifth wedding anniversary next month. It’s the sort of trifecta that, as I said earlier, can’t help but bring a moment’s pause to a man on the run.
The truth is that none of this has been easy with so many compelling reasons to stay home. When you’re dealing with chemical pesticide and fertilizer manufacturers like Scotts Miracle Gro, or Bayer or Monsanto, with no higher goals than their own bottom lines, you’re faced with some of the most insidious, sickening environment-be-damned greed you can imagine. You learn to stop looking over your shoulder at who might be threatening you next and you focus on the pesticide threats to the planet and all of its children, not just your own. You cheer for the Don Hubers and the June Irwins of the world because, despite all the objectivity learned decades ago in journalism school, you can’t help pulling for the good guys.
And you take comfort in family and friends, both on the road and at home. This week, for a few hours at least, many of them will be in one place. I can’t wait to say thank you to them all in person. What a memory that will be.