Looking back across the seasons of my life, I see my childhood years preserved as if under glass. Through the vivid transparence of memory I see the house I lived in as a child, a white frame dwelling nestled under maples and bordered with a long, perfectly cared-for garden. I think of my life as beginning somewhere under the shade of those trees, that house, the garden where I worked each morning with my mother.
Contained at the center of those memories is an image of my mother's smile, the music of her voice as she called me from sleep. Would I like to help this morning in the garden? Her invitation was a privilege, and I can't remember ever refusing. Mornings, from spring until autumn, I stood beside her as she cared for the garden. Nothing else in my life matched the beauty of those flowers, the brilliant rows of forsythia, gardenia, and azalea, the floral perfume that scented the yard. In her flowers, their spheres of color and light, I sensed the larger beauty of the world, something that originated in my mother and was nourished under her hands.
Those mornings I worked beside her, imitating her movements, I imagined my life might evolve as gracefully as any of those flowers. I measured my growth against that of her peonies and petunias, a geranium that grew tentatively behind the larger plants. Cupping its leaves in my palm, I experienced my first sense of the miraculous, an intimation that, given the proper care, attention and love, anything might grow from the soil of this garden.
That sense of the possible developed through the years of my childhood afforded nourishment by the miracles I'd witnessed among mother's snapdragons and poppies. Those feelings persisted when my brother and I started school, though my attention shifted to other things: the larger miracles which came with a knowledge of words and numbers, language and math. We discovered in our books whole constellations of things we'd never imagined. Evenings we'd share what we learned, talking excitedly of what we'd become someday. My brother wanted to become an athlete. I wanted to be a photographer, one as good as my father. No one could convince us that we couldn't be anything we desired to be. In those days there seemed no limits to what was possible.
As I became older and my life opened outward the garden became less the focus of my attention, though I spent time there still, and found joy in its beauty, the tiny miracles of which a garden is composed. I sometimes discovered parallels to those miracles in the events of my own life. A knowledge of words and numbers became the ability to understand books, perform long division, interpret the facts of history. Each fact learned in school, however insignificant, helped to illuminate a vast number of other seemingly unrelated facts. The process of learning was like what occurred in the garden, the transforming of one thing, one seed, into a living plant, a delicate blossom.
Later on, my relationships worked like that too. A word or gesture to a stranger would be returned, and returned again, a human bond forming slowly. Occasionally something took root in the heart and grew there. Nourished with openness and trust it became friendship, or something even deeper. I think of such friendships as the most delicate of flowers, and the most miraculous, something to enrich the soil of my life, whose blossoms grace my interior spaces. Sometimes in the evolving of a friendship I'm filled again with a sense of the miraculous - what I felt at age five watching a flower grow in my mother's garden.
As life progresses I continue to look for things to affirm that sense I possessed as a child. My most difficult moments are those when that sense eludes me, when my faith lapses and my life seems mundane, disappointing, or unfulfilled. At such times I allow myself to be drawn back to childhood, that garden where I accompanied my mother so many years ago. I imagine her waiting there still, her arms open and her voice bright with greetings. Walking toward her I explain first those things gone wrong with my life, my frustrations, my disappointment that I hadn't become all of what I'd wanted to be.
And when I ask forgiveness she places in my hand a magnificent red flower, one that had blossomed only that morning. It was the one we thought might perish , a frail geranium overshadowed by the other larger plants. Looking closer I recognize my own life in this plant, and I comprehend its beauty and its worth, the miracle of its existence. I offer thanks to my mother then, and close my arms about her shoulders as if to give back everything she's given me.