Recently, I've been writing a brochure for our local public garden's spring tour. I joked with them from the very beginning that I may know a little bit about farming, but plants and flowers? Well, I could learn. And learn, I have. Each garden of the five featured homes is distinct, of course, and somewhat complicated; that's part of the reason why they're featured on a tour! And what I've found most amazing about these places is how very much I've enjoyed taking time to stop and smell the roses as part of this job.
I don't slow down. I can't slow down. It feels like if I look away for a moment, one of the 17 balls which I juggle daily will drop. My work is contract-based, requiring that I always hustle for the next gig as I continue to seek full-time, in-house writing work. Parenting time is nearly 3/4 mine. I'm trying to learn how to run (literally) with an eye on adding some serious swimming and biking in the coming year, too. And I have a social life, and a community life, and blah blah blah... we're all busy. The difference between this year and past years has been that I'm busy alone, without that extra pair of adult hands to catch a dropping ball. Maybe this is why I'm so motivated to run: I have to move faster to keep up with myself!
Yet sometimes, life hands us different plans. I took my kids on a mini-vacation two weeks ago, and simply being present together without a set schedule was so refreshing. I feel like I drank them in a bit extra, for they are growing up so very fast. Then, we came home, and they were off to to the races -- and, soon after, to their dad's house for the weekend as I spent a few days fighting a cold. To make sure that it didn't go to my lungs, I hit the brakes -- hard. I spent three straight days not getting out of bed much, just rest rest resting. A friend bearing DVDs came over for takeout, and, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I let myself just be cared for, which felt amazing. I gave myself permission to go nowhere and do little for an entire weekend. I slept when I wanted, and I snuggled my dog, and what do you know: I got well pretty darned fast.
Coming out of that, I realized something: I've been going too fast. I'm only 40. There is no race to the finish. Whatever I want to get done, well, there's plenty of time to do it. Think about it: if I live until I'm 90 or beyond, which is likely given my family history, I have over half of my life left. That's a lot of time to finish writing my books, or to plant my own garden and watch it grow -- even if that's a metaphorical one, with another partner and life we build together. But none of it has to happen tomorrow, or next week, or even next year.
What does have to happen now, though, is that I have to be mindful about stopping to smell the roses every so often, literally and figuratively, even after this garden tour ends, because it is so very restorative. Appreciating the beauty that surrounds us, whether it's the first buds of spring's wisteria or the gorgeous full rainbow I spotted yesterday, isn't something to miss because we're busy. Being sick made me have some flashbacks to the time when I didn't think I had a long and full life left, when my lungs were are their worst and when the future looked not just bleak, but absent. I am well aware that each day is a gift. It makes me sad that, sometimes, I'm so busy that I forget to stop and acknowledge that there is grace in the everyday -- in fact, there's grace in just being alive everyday.
Today, a stranger, now a friend, drove home that grace as I toured her garden to prepare for writing about it. My eyes nearly teared up as I smelled daphne, my very favorite fragrant plant; it smells kind of like Froot Loops, actually. I chose daphne to plant near the front door of my last home, and that smell, well, it made me so happy; and yet, I spent so much time on my front stoop smelling that smell as life crumbled all around me that it now reminds me of what is no longer there in ways both good and bad. She noticed me pausing to drink in the smell, and she broke off a sprig and tucked it into my hand. "At least for today," she said, "it'll stay fragrant for you to enjoy." I carried it for the rest of our tour before placing it in my car, and every time I opened the door today, that old familiar smell hit me. The nostalgia got to me a little bit, but what settled in my heart a little more was the kindness of this new friend to give me a gift that means more to me than she'll ever know, because today, I took the time to drink it all in. I picked up that daphne and smelled it probably twenty more times, and, with each breath, I remembered something important: sometimes, it's the little things that matter, like being kind to each other and opening our eyes to beauty that we don't really see as we hurry by. It's noticing the colors, textures, light, shadows, and fragrances of a garden, but also the very same about the people who create them. Part of the beauty of participating in this project has been interacting with the creators of these spaces. Oh, how their eyes dance and how their hands become animated as they describe their labors of love! They thrive in their element, just as their flowers do.
And that is what brings me to where I'm going with this: the garden within. Roses are beautiful, and so are the hands that tend them, even when they require so much work. So, too, is true of our lives. We all work so hard to create this thing called "life," and sometimes, it gets away from us, far too out of control. If I can pause on vacation and marvel at my kids a little extra, maybe I need to take a few minutes of vacation every day to do the very same thing while not urging them to hurryupandgettothenextthing. If I can stop and rest when I'm sick, because I know my very life may depend on it, well, maybe I can just stop and rest sometimes because I'm tired -- or, better yet, maybe I can stop and rest with a friend and DVDs and takeout because I want to, and not just because I'm sick and forced into downtime. Maybe I can structure my life a little better so that instead of running on my treadmill at 10 pm after the day's long list of work and chores is done, I am running with a friend, perhaps even through a garden, placing care of myself as a higher priority on the to-do list. It feels like there is always too much work and too little time, but, really, isn't the opposite the case? All we have is time, and some of that time needs to be spent tending our gardens so that they grow. Beautiful things require maintenance, and so do beautiful lives.