The Community Garden

by: Douglas Grant

The best thirty seconds of your day……

There’s a daily ritual you have that gives you a tremendous sense of peace. It happens first thing in the morning, every morning, and it doesn’t matter if the weather is scorching or frigid, sunny or rainy. Every day, on the way to your office, you pass by the community garden, and these brief few moments set the tone for the rest your day, often putting matters in perspective. But today you’ve grown extremely agitated, almost irrationally so. Today you blew right by the community garden without even glancing in its direction, and the disappointment you feel toward yourself because of your negligence is rather troubling.

It takes you approximately thirty seconds to walk from the community garden’s north end to its south. Thirty seconds in your entire day. You learned long ago that you benefit the most from structure and routine, and regardless of how much you may boast about how willing you are to experience new things, you acknowledge that you are a creature of habit. You’re grateful that this garden has been placed in your path on the way to your office. You’ll never pick up the pace when you’re strolling by it, even if you’re running late, and yet neither will you linger in an attempt to prolong the experience. Thirty seconds is all you get. Sometimes when you walk along the pathway while listening to music and sipping on your coffee, you’ll gaze through the chain-link fence and consciously raise your awareness. You become truly appreciative of the collective efforts of the young caretakers who brought their vision to fruition. The sight moves you. You won’t realize it then, but this may be the highlight of your entire day.

The community garden is eclectic. In its northwest corner is a lagoon with lily pads and bamboo shooting right up out of the water and reaching for the sky. One day you saw a heron, or a crane (you’ve never really understood the difference), standing on one leg at the edge of a water. You ask one of the young gardeners if it was put there, but he surprises you by telling you that it shows up on its own every so often. For some reason this information pleases you. As you walk along, you take in the area reserved just for succulents, and they appear to be thriving. There are both bird feeders and bird houses, both of which are usually populated. You even spot a humming bird feeder dangling from a tree branch. There’s a winding pathway that cuts through the garden, and as you pass along the flower bed filled with colorful miniature hollyhocks, California lilacs, and godetias, you eventually make your way to the garden’s south end, to the Japanese style rock garden, complimented with a statue of the Buddha. The whole perimeter is enclosed in, and shaded by, beefy palm fronds that only contribute to the garden’s allure. At the end of your walk you see the skeletal beginnings of what may eventually become an arbor, and you think to yourself that it’s a nice touch.

Some might feel that the compost bin on the western side of the garden is an eyesore, but you think that it has its place there. It’s indicative of the sustainable ecosystem movement that’s continuing to pick up momentum out here in Cali. In fact, you’ve grown to appreciate the garden’s imperfections, including the occasional weed that sprouts up in the flower bed, or the crab grass that tugs at the corners of the fence and threatens to compromise the serene beauty of this place. You’re proud of the individuals who’ve made this project a reality. You’re proud to know them.

So why are you so upset with yourself? Is it simply because today you brushed right by without taking notice of it? Yes, that’s it, but it’s more than that. As you walk into your office and start dropping items onto your desk, you realize your mistake, only now it’s too late. You won’t double-back and go outside to take in the garden. You had had your chance, and you blew it. You didn’t pay the slightest bit of attention to the garden as you walked by it, and now you’ve probably thrown your whole day out of whack. You’re being hard on yourself, and you start to wonder if the feeling is justified.

You come to the conclusion that it is. If you were really too distracted to take notice of this place that serves to put you at ease every morning, then that means one of two things has happened: You were either dwelling on what happened yesterday or worrying about what may or may not happen tomorrow, and this is no good. This is not how you’re trying to live your life. You’ve spent a lot of time and energy striving toward living in the moment, and today you failed utterly. Your daily walk by the community garden is symbolic of this endeavor.  Now here you are, and you realize you’ve once again gotten caught up in those old habits that used to make you crazy and bring out the worst of your nature. Lesson learned.

At the very least you’re aware of it. This is a good starting point. This goal you have won’t be achieved overnight; you’ll need to continuously work at it. Today you had a relapse, but it’s not the end of the world. Tomorrow you’ll be keeping your eyes out for some minute detail of the garden’s layout that you may have previously missed. Whatever it may be, you’re sure it will bring you a sense of contentment. It always does.

As your time here at this job quickly draws to a close, you realize how precious few days there are left, but you’re not going to worry about that right now. Tomorrow morning you’ll have thirty seconds all to yourself, and for thirty seconds you will remain present, in the moment. You can’t change what happened yesterday, and you don’t know what will happen tomorrow. You’ve spent a lifetime trying to grasp the basic concepts of this very simple idea, yet somehow living by this tenet has proved to be frustratingly elusive. You’re making progress though, and you know that this place, this community garden, has been extremely influential in this new way of thinking.

Your problems will be waiting for you when you’re done with your stroll. Maybe, instead of focusing on them, you should focus on the beauty of the garden. You just might find the solution that you’ve been looking for.

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