The wishes of the soul are springing,
The deeds of the will are thriving,
The fruits of life are maturing.
I feel my fate,
My fate finds me.
I feel my star,
My star finds me.
I feel my goals in life,
My goals in life are finding me.
My soul and the great World are one.
Life grows more radiant about me,
Life grows more arduous for me,
Life grows more abundant within me.
I have loved this verse since I first heard it a few years ago. I love the juxtaposition of an abundant, radiant life also being arduous. What a word!
I have taken on the care of a large garden the last couple of years, and it has been a firsthand lesson in the blessing of grueling work and sublime joy being so beautifully and hopelessly intertwined. There is nothing so shining as the first cucumber hanging on the vine after carefully tending the soil, planting the seed, weeding, watering and praying for its appearance. And there it is! It feels like a miracle, and it really is a miracle…life is radiant in that moment.
Flash forward a month or so to the 200th cucumber, one of a pile on your kitchen counter that need to be pickled before they rot, on the same day that you’ve harvested the 7th bushel of green beans and enough zucchini to prompt your neighbors to slam their doors at the sound of your footsteps on their porch. There is nothing like canning at midnight to help you feel the grind of gardening. A family member said to me this summer, “You are really a slave to the garden, aren’t you?” There were times this summer when I did feel like a slave to it. And this garden is not my livelihood. I can only begin to imagine what it must feel like for the farmer whose family depends on those crops for their survival.
It truly is the dual nature of gardening – the arduous work combined with the radiant joy – that speak to me so strongly. Life really does feel more abundant in the garden. Of course, I can come to this resplendent conclusion now that it’s autumn and the laborious work of the garden has eased….there’s a reason the settlers celebrated Thanksgiving in November! By January, I’ll be poring over those glossy seed catalogs planning for even more cucumbers next year.
When I was a young woman, I pictured my future life as sort of a Hallmark greeting card. A hunky spouse, several adorable children, a beautiful spotless home, travel, a fulfilling career, you get the picture. As life marched on and the hunky spouse came, the adorable children came, the house (alas, not spotless) came, and the fulfilling career came, there have been many moments that were greeting -card -worthy; stunning, breathtaking moments of pure joy that I wished I could freeze and pop into my pocket to enjoy again and again. And they came along with moments, hours – sometimes full days – of grueling, arduous work. Temper tantrums, sibling rivalries, laundry, meals, school concerts, soccer games, job stress, dentist appointments, illnesses, worry; the relentless march of a busy mother’s life that, if I wasn’t careful and conscious, might have succeeded in sucking the joy out of those shining moments of parental bliss.
This November, I find myself in the autumn of my parenting life as well as my gardening year. Our youngest child is almost out the door to college. And in this time of Thanksgiving I realize that the best things in life really are arduous and radiant at the same time. It’s only in this beautiful contradiction we can truly experience abundance in the fullest sense.
Mary O’Connell is the Director of LifeWays Early Childhood Center in Milwaukee, where she has worked for the last eleven years. She and her husband have three almost-grown children, and have recently acquired a 160-year old farm where she tends a weedy, wonderful garden, a farm education program, and about 60,000 honeybees.