The Empty Garden
I tried to take pictures that would showcase the garden's beauty but wondered if I was being deceptive. At first glance there is definitely something sad and abandoned about the place and I don’t really know why that is. There must have been a gardener who cared a lot.** The flowers are all kept up beautifully. There’s a sandbox full of toys, a greenhouse with birds, little herb gardens, swings, a hammock. There’s a lawn with a plaque that begins: “In an urban environment with so much gray concrete, a green grassy carpet is inviting for children to climb, roll down, lie on, look at, feel and smell. . . It is cut with a hand mower with most of the clippings left to benefit the lawn. Nature prefers diversity with many types of plant life sharing a growing space.” They did everything right. It’s the kind of playground I would think those involved in Playwork—those groups like Alliance for Childhood and Play for Tomorrow who encourage imaginative, unstructured play--would celebrate. True maybe there are not enough loose parts, maybe it’s a bit too safe since it’s largely wheelchair accessible. Maybe there are too many plastic toys. But it encourages imagination. It's full of little hideaways. It's a perfect place for children to learn and explore and create their own little worlds.
I had to rush back to work during his nap.
Alongside the ringing sound from the wind chimes was the ticking clock of Wally's approaching nap and the increasing likelihood that he'd fall asleep in
the stroller on the way home. That meant he wouldn't nap for long and I wouldn't get any work done. Last year was so full of that tug of war. Freelance work and being a stay-at-home-mom. That doesn't mean you can't do both--work and be a good mom--but at the time, getting laid off and being given full-time care for a toddler, I had not figured out how to do it. Trying to arrange the days so Wally could "climb, roll down, lie down (but only exactly when I needed him to), look at, feel and smell". In the meantime trying to keep up with my work and writing. Chase two rabbits and you won't catch either one.
I had seen the garden several times before I ever thought to bring Wally there to play. My grandmother Miriam spent a few weeks at the Rusk Institute recovering from a brain hemorrhage in the spring of 2008. Recovering is maybe the wrong word: while Wally was busy being born she was busy dying. Or maybe Dylan is right, there is no in-between. Yet she was someone who--at 93--hadn't until then spent anytime dying at all.
Of course it's obvious--the playground wasn't a gloomy place. We see things as we are. And the songs that resonate the most are about whatever you're going through at the time. Then they get seared into that moment. Maybe that moment can last forever, like Edna St. Vincent Millay's version of childhood as "the kingdom where nobody dies." No, then we'd be the stone children in that garden, frozen with silent squeals, arms forever raised in delight. Happiness turns into gloom when it's not allowed to change, when the moving parts, loose parts --that playground buzzward--loose parts of families at such loose ends, at the end--one end and one beginning--can't figure out a way to stop staring, to stop the end from coming, to stop feeling dazed by the fact that life changes--it changes, it changes, we knew that--to get in some kind of rag-tag order, to follow the leader--one you imagine still leads (can't bare to think otherwise)--and move forward.
* Secret Garden (1910)
** Elton John "Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)" (1982)
***William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun (1951), "The past is never dead, it's not even past."