This Spring’s been a weird one for me. Mostly because I’ve been totally one-footed due to surgery. I can’t put any weight on my left foot. Life as a monopod is not awesome, in general, I must say. It’s painful and inconvenient in the extreme.
But one good thing about this Spring is that my daughter and I started reading “The Secret Garden” together about a month back – meaning that we’ve been creeping along in the season just like the book. The 1911 classic starts in very early Spring, before anything has grown, and ends in the lush flush of the start of summer. The book focuses first on Mary, a neglected but well-off girl who had lived in India. With her parents dead of cholera, however, she is shipped off to live with her often-absent uncle in his huge, creepy British mansion. Fresh air and a few friendly faces quickly do her good and she ends up be able to help Colin, her cousin, who has been in such a state of despair and sickness for so long that he can’t even walk. Together, the pair learn to love nature in a hitherto locked garden.
Like Colin, I started this Spring largely unable to function at all, being as I was newly emergent from surgery and just learning the fun world of opiates. (Spoiler: it eventually isn’t fun at all in the long run, leading to rather awful and prolonged withdrawal effects.) Also like Colin, I’m slowly getting better, but I’ll admit the pace is excruciatingly slow – especially when all I want to do is take long walks in the gorgeous April sunshine. I’d even settle for being able to put weight on my foot at all, which won’t come for weeks yet. But progress is happening, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Gardens remind us of that – even though today’s view out the window of tulips and daffodils seems static, it is in fact changing every hour. Some things fade while others emerge. The palette of pastel shifts into the primary and finally to the autumnal, until we will once again be straining our eyes for the hint of a bright red berry.
Knowing that “The Secret Garden” was published in 1911 gives me a sort of melancholy sometimes because that winter was coming both in the book and in history. The book’s optimistic, triumph of the human spirit seems sadly naïve in the face of the terrors of World War I right around the bend. You wonder what became of these children in the book and indeed of the author herself, Frances Eliza Hodgson. As it turns out, “The Secret Garden” was the last book she published. But she was no naïve Pollyanna when she wrote it. She was 62 at time of publication and had endured two divorces and the loss of her son. She suffered from depression for much of her life. That such a woman could endure such difficulty and still celebrate beauty, wisdom, and simple human goodness in “The Secret Garden” makes me hope she could endure what the world held for her – and what the world holds for us in a very scary period of time.
The world will get cold, the garden will die back, but that doesn’t mean we don’t relish every second of the Spring. And it doesn’t mean Spring won’t come back. Feet come and feet go, too, apparently – at least for me. But there is a beauty and a goodness that is in the progress of getting better, too, for me personally and hopefully for all of humanity as well.