Thursday, May 24, 2007

Derek's Lovely Garden : Reprise

“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled a niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth's beauty or failed to express it, who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had, whose life is/was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.” -Bessie Stanley November 30, 1905


Derek continued to pull weeds, though there were days that it was obvious that it was causing him a great deal of pain. His body was slowly wasting away, he held his abdomen when he squatted to grab an errant blade of grass or shake the seed from a pod on the Rose of Sharon bushes that he had used to create a hedge. The dog was showing a bit of gray on his muzzle, just like I do when I let my beard get a little long, proof that age leaves it's mark on everyone and everything. Time was taking it's toll on all that I could see, except the garden.

In the corner, some ivy, around the trees some ground cover. Along a wall a few herbs. The garden could not have been more beautiful. New day lilies were bright orange and bobbing their heads in the late spring sun. The gardener didn't look as well.

I spoke to him one day and he told me that he was taking treatments, that he had a few more to go. I felt confident that he wasn't talking dialysis. He looked ill, there were not a kinder word I could use to describe his appearance. This gentle man who wanted nothing more than a beautiful place to rest looked as though he might be doing that soon. He shared that the building was going condo and that he was going to have to move. Finding a place for him and the dog wasn't going to be easy he said. I knew that to be true, but not from personal experience. He surely was bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders, but without Atlas' frame to do so.

Derek moved away. The garden has grown up in weeds and is rarely mowed. His ornamental grasses are there, but they seem less than ornamental. It is the picture of what the garden looked like in Oscar Wilde's story The Selfish Giant. Bleak, very overgrown, lonely and unloved, nothing looks right about the garden and it has been difficult to look out over it in early spring and see very few bulbs in bloom and only a spotty smattering of crocus.

Now and again, I see Derek, maybe he comes to have dinner at the bar across the street, maybe it's to visit friends in the apartment building that he lived in. He doesn't go into the garden though. I thought about his garden this morning and I looked around for a laminated card that a friend had given me long ago when I said that I often wondered if I would know success. It was one of those moments that we all have, we question what we are doing, we wonder if we are making a difference. It's amazing really that he knew just the words to share. He wouldn't be the kind to say them out loud, but he would give you a card with his thoughts on it. The quote by Bessie Stanley was printed on the card. It is often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, it has not been found in his writings, but there has been a piece that might have been his outline based on the same thoughts.

Derek has proved that he has met success. I don't know for sure if children love him, but he has a dog that does, does that count when you aren't a parent, uncle...? He did find his niche, he worked to make the world better than he found it and he tried to improve it with a poppy, well, other flowers, but he would have put poppies in if someone had shared them with him. He has dealt well with the ugliness of life and met it with the best that he could muster, I do see his life as an inspiration and I trust that some day like we all hope for ourselves his memory will be a benediction.

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