In the field behind my house, there is a garden where my memories grow. Scattered by the wind, yet perfectly sorted by time. Some have yet to grow and blossom into their full potential, while others are so withered, it’s a wonder they are still alive. From time to time I go out and walk through my garden, trying to appreciate the beauty of the blessed landscape that my life has, over time, sown.
It is always the same, yet each time a little bit different. It begins as something joyous, something I look forward to. But then my heart gets entangled in the weeds, I see the flowers that have died, and my heart turns hard and cold. Gardens should be a source of pleasure, but mine has at times been a source of heart-gripping nostalgia and at other times a source of tears—from wounds that have never been healed.
This time was different. This time, I decided to take the gardener along with me on my stroll. Well, I didn’t really decide to take him with me; it had been decided for me. It was as if God was reminding me that I was never taught to be a gardener, yet I had relied upon my own gardening skills, which was a recipe for failure. So when he came to me, with his brimmed sun hat and garden tools in hand, I opened the gate and invited him in. At first I wanted him to take the stroll himself; if he had come to fix things, if he had come to make my garden beautiful, then he could do it on his own. But without a word he shook his head and handed me a tool as well.
I took the tool from him and stood behind him, hoping that he would shield me from the view of the garden that I was just too tired to look at any longer. He grabbed my hand and ran to the opposite side. I never started with this side of the garden, so usually by the time I got here I was too tired to see what was growing. He fell to his knees and pulled me down beside him. “These are the oldest of your flowers, yet they look the youngest. These are the flowers that started it all. These are the flowers you should cherish and take care of always. They don’t have any thorns; they don’t have any sharp edges. They are just flowers.” And as I looked at them, I began to smile, from molar to molar. Buttercups! Buttercups! I had never noticed that they were my childhood favorite, buttercups. And I began to laugh as I remembered how we would find the buttercups as children and pick off the stem. We would hold the flower to our lips and suck, ever so gently, finding the sweetness of the nectar dripping onto our tongues and invigorating our hearts. We’d then throw the flowers down and lay in the grass, talking about nothing and everything all at the same time. Buttercups. All this time they were right there, but I had always started at the wrong side of my garden, so I never noticed.
I had gotten lost in thought and forgotten the gardener was waiting for me. I looked up at him, ready to apologize for wasting his time, but I found him simply sitting. Sitting and smiling. He stood up and took my hand and walked me over to another part of my garden. He looked a little concerned, but not too much so. He sat down and gently tapped the ground so I could sit beside him. “These flowers look a bit rough. They are beautiful flowers, but they have begun to grow small thorns on the stems, so you must be careful when you touch them. There are many small weeds growing in this part of the garden, and they don’t need to be here. They are taking the nutrients from the flowers and taking away from their beauty. Together we will pull out these weeds. Be gentle—do not tear them. Pull them from the root, and put them in the bucket. I will show you what we will use them for later.” I nodded my head and watched as he showed me how to weed the garden. I had never before weeded anything, but he was so skilled that when I began to follow his lead, I learned quickly. Each time I pulled one of the small weeds, the garden seemed to radiate more and more, the beauty of the flowers finally emerging. After we finished, the bucket where the weeds lay looked dark and cold. Just looking at the weeds made my chest tighten and tears well up in my eyes. He put his hand on my heart. “Don’t worry, you will soon understand. We need these weeds for later.” I had no idea what he was saying, but I had come to trust him so much that I didn’t need to understand. I took another look at the now beautiful portion of my garden, and took in a deep breath, smelling the sweet aroma of flowers that had never before made it to my soul. He put his hand on my shoulder and urged me to move on.
I found myself standing in front of the last planted portion of my garden. This was the portion that I usually began with, the portion that was the ugliest, the most neglected. Just looking at this part made me sick to my stomach. I looked for a few seconds, hit the floor with my knees, and covered my face. This wasn’t even a garden; it was a garbage dump. I began to cry, not really understanding why, but when I looked at him, he nodded in recognition. He knew why I was crying, and it was okay. He waited until I was done, and gently sat next to me in front of the horrific scene before us. “Look closely. If you look past the entangled jumble of weeds, past the dead leaves and bugs, you will see tiny little flowers. They are there, but they haven’t been taken care of at all and the weeds have cut off their supply of nutrients. They get smaller every day and have never been given a chance. Look at the weeds. They have sharp thorns that can cut your hand if you touch them. Look at the dead leaves. All over them there are bugs that are eating away at the soul of the flowers. These too can bite you if you are not careful. For this garden, you must wear gloves. You will wear gloves and tear away all of the overgrown weeds, cut off all of the dead leaves, and spray them with food that will nourish the small flowers. Again, make sure not to cut the tiny flowers, and make sure to get the weeds at the root. These too will go into our bucket.”
He handed me the strongest leather gloves that I had ever seen. I put them on, and then I noticed that he didn’t put any on. I asked him why; wouldn’t he get hurt? He responded, “I am a gardener. I am experienced in the gardens of weeds, thorns, and bugs. My hands have built their own shields, and I feel no pain when I touch them. They can no longer affect me.” I nodded my head, not fully understanding, but hoping that one day I would. I began pulling at the weeds, revealing tiny flowers I had never seen before, which had sadly been deprived of nutrients for so long. This part of the garden took the longest. We spent hours and hours plucking away at the weeds, until finally we had finished. He then took out the nutrient water and sprayed the area. Before my eyes, I saw the flowers begin to strengthen and grow. “You must spray this garden every day for some time in order for the flowers to reach their full potential. If you forget, the weeds will return, and it will go back to being the ugly place it was before.” I nodded my head and promised that I would.
We finished all the planted areas of the garden. Now all that was left was a barren space that had never been sown. Before I had a chance to explain that this hadn’t been planted yet, I saw him reach for the bucket of weeds. He began to spray them with nutrient water and crush them with his hands. Under the pressure of his touch, they crumbled and became like powder. When he finished, he handed me the bucket of powder that his hands had produced. “Go to that barren area, and spread this dust all over the untouched soil. This will be the fertilizer by which new flowers will grow. You will see that the flowers that are produced in this area will be more beautiful and more fragrant than any other part of your garden. They will be stronger, and they will have fewer thorns. They will be the flowers that you admire most. They will be what makes your garden complete. And the only reason they will have been able to grow in such magnificent ways is because of the fertilizer that we made, together from the weeds that clouded your other flowers.” I took the bucket and did as he said. Before my eyes I saw small green plants begin to bud. I could not tell what color the flowers would be, or even what kind they would be. But I could tell that these flowers were not like anything I had ever dreamed of having in my garden.
The sun began to set, and the gardener handed me the tools that were in his hands. “I must go now, but I have given you exactly what you need to take care of your garden. If you need me, just call out and I will be at your door in a minute. You did a great job today. Don’t forget that.” He turned and walked away, leaving me sitting in my garden, this time with a joyous relief and gratitude I had never felt before. This was my garden of memories, and it was the most beautiful garden I had ever seen.