From the airplane window, I glimpsed a small airport terminal in Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico. It was painted in bright colors. The jacaranda trees were blooming and a mother was selling tortillas in the open breezeway.

I wanted to get off the plane and start my life over.

How is it that a small detail can change the way we live? What does a painted airport tell us about a country, and even about ourselves?

In Mexico everything matters, my wife Judy said. “The stones in the street, the fruit placed on a market stand, the geometric pattern on the dress of a tortilla seller. It’s all esthetic.”

Moreover, this esthetic wasted little and honored much. After seeing toy animals made of soda cans, egg shells turned into flowers, and an ordinary philodendron growing on a wall in a reused jar, I slowly realized that the extraordinary could be made from the ordinary.

When I looked out of that airplane window 30 years ago, our children were in school and Judy was becoming a landscape architect. We wouldn’t get off.

But later, we would build a pink stucco house in a walled flower garden in North Carolina. Philodendron included.