I am in a garden, an English style garden with hedges dividing plots of flowers and woven through with stone pathways. Benches are scattered throughout. I am sitting on one of those benches, smooth oak ribs on an iron frame. The air is cool. There is a pervasive quiet to this place. It is interesting to feel peace within this sculpted nature. I am more accustomed to seeking peace within the wildness of a forest.
I sit and drink in the measured, purposeful consolation of this place. It is for this that it was designed. It is for this that loving hands have tended beds and trimmed the hedges. This is a place of intentional rest.
On old woman comes down one of the stone paths toward me. She has a shawl wrapped around her shoulders and she walks with a cane, but her steps are confident. “Hello, my child,” she greets me. She seems very familiar, but I am not sure who she is.
“Good morning, grandmother.” I use the term as a title and not as a name.
“First time in this garden?”
“Yes ma’am, it is beautiful. Do you know whose it is?”
“It is ours: yours, mine, anyone’s who will come.”
“A public garden then.”
“No, a private one. One where privacy is carefully cultivated and given space.”
She joins me on the bench and we sit together for a long time, not speaking, but not at all awkward in the silence.
“Such gardens require time,” she says at last. “They must be cultivated slowly and with discipline. That’s why the very young don’t come here often. The children can find their peace in wilder places, and are not hindered by the climb to the high mountain or the scramble through underbrush. I need the stone pathways to help me.”
I glance at her cane and wonder at the limits of the loss of movement.
“Don’t feel sorry for me, my dear,” she says, following my eyes. “I am not limited by my years, but freed. The journeys I have taken still inhabit my heart. But sometimes the thirst to continually see more can distract you from taking the time to understand what has been already seen. I have time for understanding now, in ways I never had before.”
“Why am I here?” I ask.
“It is not given to me to know the lot of others,” she replies. “But I began to come here when I was younger, before I felt the limits and liberation of my cane. It was a familiar spot to me, one of great comfort and joy even before the wilds became too hard for me to find. Perhaps it is the same for you.”
She continues, “Growing older in a world which values not the wisdom of silence can make the changes seem as if they were losses. You see the gray hairs and feel the frailty in your step and start to mourn. Yet, it is only loss if you refuse to move forward. There are new tasks for each age. Learn to pick up the next, and your hands will not be empty from the loss of the previous ones. I am closer to eternity than you. I feel its breath more clearly…not as a specter of evil, but a curtain of hope, which will rise on a beautiful and wondrous new place. Do not deny the passage of time, do not delay maturity. But welcome it as you welcomed childhood from infancy and young adulthood from adolescence.”
“Well, I must admit, I have never been very eager to grow. At least as long as I can remember, I have resisted the responsibilities of each new stage…. preferring the comfort and assurance of where I was. I was never quite sure I could meet the challenge of growing up.”
“You never meet the challenges until you are there, my dear. They are part of the process of change, they don’t precede it. It is as natural as physical growth, if you will let go of what has been.”
“I haven’t done all I need to do where I am.”
“Perhaps not, and I don’t believe your presence here means that it is time for you to leave your current stage. But I know that the tasks assigned to you in each stage of your life may be different than the ones you take up on your own. You may not always be able to judge when you are ready to move on. If you can trust, though, and know that the one who moves you also knows your path, your tasks, and your time. You have no need to fear or mourn. Enjoy the garden. You will no doubt come again. Do not fear the loss of the wild. It is not lost to you, but given greater depth as you move on. He will take your hand when it is time and lead you on.”
“Thank you, grandmother.” I reach out and touch her hand. It is small and covered with light brown age spots. Her skin is frail and thin, but when I touch it I am warmed and comforted. She places her other hand on top of mine and I realize that this is my grandmother Byrd, my true grandmother as well as my spiritual one. She smiles at me with love and with very knowing eyes.
“You make us proud, your grandfather and I. We are glad to see your journey and will wait to welcome you when it is done. We wait with the host of those who love you.” She rises to go and at the turn in the path, she is met by my grandfather, Lawrence Lee. They lean toward each other, wrapped in common love and experience. He smiles at me, too, and they are gone.
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[photo by Bill Barber per cc 2.0]