In the Spring 2011 Insight and Action, I told you about the newest edition to my Iris collection: “Strawberry Frosting,” and how excited I was to see its first bloom. What would you have thought you would see with a name like that? Some lovely bloom the color of Valentine cupcakes, right? Well, you would have had to check the name tag as I did when “Strawberry Frosting” bloomed a pale lavender with a faint pink tinge at the center. Was it lovely? Absolutely. Was I disappointed? A bit, because it was not what I had expected.

The gardener has that experience often. Sometimes it’s because the plant is mislabeled; sometimes a pollinator brings in unexpected pollen; and sometimes because the memory plays tricks, because what you thought you planted last fall becomes something entirely different the next spring. Some of the greatest joys of a garden are the surprises. These sometimes call for a great deal of work because the surprises can lead to replanting. In my cottage gar- den, if one thing comes in or is moved, something else has to be moved and watered. One thing leads to another and then another.

I know citizen advocates often find they expected one thing, and as they spend more time with their protégé, they have found that this person is not the per- son they heard me describe. I learned a new way to say this last week from a young woman, Rachel, who does this work in Atlanta. She calls this: “I see— you see.” I think I describe the person well when I meet with advocates. I spend time with a board member, and we create a profile that we hope cap- tures and describes the person and what we see as a possible role an advocate might play. But I know people are sometimes surprised.

On the reverse side of this, I am including some questions coordinators have collected to offer as ideas advocates might use when they are seeing someone different than the person I thought I described. They might lead advocates to consider ways to become acquainted and ways to deepen the relationship they are developing. Relationships are always about surprises and require us to
grow and adapt, to listen and to learn. “Strawberry Frosting” was not what I expected, but after another look, I see that the lightly veined lavender petals with the pale pink center is absolutely breathtaking. Citizen advocacy some- times calls us to do that— take another look.