Tending the Secret Garden

As I sat at my desk last week I found myself staring out at the bleak-looking woods in our back yard. The recent winds took down nearly all the leaves, and the rain has wiped out the bright colors that pooled on the ground for a little while. Add in the high overcast blocking the sun, and all I could see were the dulled colors of early winter: brown and gray, drab greens and faded yellows. It was more than a little disheartening. And then as I looked out over this scene, feeling a little dull and gray myself, a pair of bluebirds flew suddenly to a branch directly at eye level, flashing almost neon in their brightness.

The “bluebird of happiness” has never been an image that works very well for me: a bit too saccharine, and certainly far too clichéd. And yet I have to admit, my heart did a little flip-flop of joy when those beautiful creatures lit up the scene, and after they had danced their jaunty bird jig on the branch for a few minutes and then flown away the landscape had a sheen to it, a little backwash of light left behind.

One of the quotes I keep posted in my home office on my Wall of Wisdom is from Sarah Breathnach: “Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend.”

Not a bad reminder as we wend our way toward Thanksgiving. Which secret garden will we tend today? Lord knows, most of us take meticulous care of our inner Garden of Dissatisfaction. We wander through its open gate almost before we’ve fully wakened in the morning, sorry for ourselves because of too little sleep or the wisp of some crabby dream. We admire each new little sprout and return, again and again, to the unkempt and extravagant growth of our favorite gripes, some of them many years old and still full of whining vigor.

But there’s another garden growing right alongside this one for each of us, so that just a little tilt of the head or a shift in our vision puts us deep within a world of a different shape. Along its paths we can see the ordinary grace of our lives that we ignore so easily: breath, health, love, friends, food, and all the small gifts brought to us by the unfolding day. In the Garden of Abundance, the bare branches against a November overcast become a blessing, not because of the bluebirds that lighted there for a moment but because the branches themselves exist, and I have the eyes to see them.

Which secret garden will you tend today?


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