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by David Lendrum; September 18, 2001

People have always found solace in the garden, reconnecting with the world after the wrenching apart of tragic events. Loss of loved ones and worry for the missing or injured calls us to the soil and to the welcoming comfort of the flowers and plants waiting for us.

The outpouring of grief and the mind-numbing sense of a world instantly transformed give rise to the need for reassurance of some basic continuances.

The sun rises in the east, the sea tide swells, and the cyclical progression of the garden remains constant. There are immediate tasks, and the rewards are so clear and intimate that one can lose all sense of the exterior. Soil waits to be turned, weeds growing unabated need to be removed, and the vine-like new growth of roses and dogwoods calls for guidance.

Pick up your tools, put on your gloves and rainpants, the garden calls for your attentions. There, at least, you can have positive effect. There, at least, you know what to do. There, at least, the day's effort will make a difference.

It will not change what has happened, nothing can. The only control we have is in how we react to the events. Rage blinds instantly, but sorrow needs time, the sense of loss will gradually diminish to a level that allows life to go on.

This does not mean that gardening is retreat, or passive action. Positive, reassuring, and healing, garden work is the oldest human labor; it reopens connections that came with us when we were born. The primordial sense of intimacy with all life can be reaffirmed, and we can salve our wounds with this balm.

Gardens memorialize events of mind-searing sadness; they have always been the vehicles through which great national tragedies have been formally recognized. We have found that investing locations with symbolic meaning allows us to re-experience events without reopening the wounds. It is no accident that people are buried in gardens, or that trees are planted as memorials. These visual and tactile creations pierce the divisions we humans have created between ourselves and all the rest of the world. They serve the living, reminding us of all who have passed away, and encourage the spirit in the hope of all who are yet to come.

Shoulder to shoulder with our sorrow, we labor. It does not vanish, but becomes a familiar companion. It is not forgotten, we become accustomed to its presence. We do not seek to banish it; sorrow and loss are integrated into our lives as bone and blood, we learn to experience them intimately, as we live.

People know the healing powers of the landscape; earliest writings speak of seeking solace in the wilderness, and of finding reconciliation with crippling emotional conflicts in the unoccupied spaces. The development of gardens in the populated places has come to represent those same forces and energies. The strength of the wild world shows in the tiniest spaces, and we, as part of the living network find ourselves reanimated by our contacts with that world.

It is not for esthetic pleasure alone that we garden, we sense our relationship with the universal as we participate in the processes of the living. Planting and nurturing are medicine for the soul. Physical contact with other lives, fingers in the soil and hands on the branches, means so much to injured people that healing gardens are now integrated into most hospital facilities.

Wellness is not just the absence of symptoms, the millions of deeply injured people restlessly returning to their jobs and places who are searching for some method of clearing their way, may find some comfort in planting a garden. Medicine comes in all types of packaging, and most are derived from plants. It may very well be that the living ones and our relationship to them can be one of the strongest therapies available.

We turn in times of troubles to the arts; to music and drama for insights, to painting and sculpture for concentration, and to dance for release. Song and symphony are integrated into most ceremonial acts of remembrance, they call for participation, and they open the wells of suppressed emotion. But for a real long-term affirmation of faith, or of the unforgettable, there is nothing like a garden.

Days, weeks, months and years later we walk the paths of remembrance, see the trees and flowers we planted in the depths of grief, and remember those lost. That grief is planted with the garden. We will always remember.

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