My mother taught me that everything I needed to learn about life I could learn in the garden. What happens in the garden is the same as what happens in our lives. There is a rhythm in the garden that follows the seasons – a period of rest followed by a period of growth. A thriving garden needs balance – too much of something or not enough of something else and things don’t do as well. Birth death growth persistence collaboration competition beauty change interconnection – it’s all waiting to be witnessed right in my backyard.
There is a sense of predictability in the garden that is one of the things I like best. Most of the time things happen in the garden just as you imagine they will. You plant carrots, you harvest carrots. You don’t weed, and the weeds take over. It’s pretty simple.
That’s why I was so surprised when I turned the corner the other day and came face to face with something quite unexpected:
It’s a common sight in a prairie garden…except when you didn’t plant sunflower seeds.
Not sure where this one came from. I’ve never had sunflowers in my garden. But this year, one single, solitary sunflower showed up. Of course I spent time trying to imagine all of the ways that happened.
Isn’t that true of life as well?
Things show up randomly and unexpectedly.
And when they do, we attach a judgment to these unexpected events by labeling them as good or bad.
Finding money on the sidewalk – good.
A surprise phone call from a friend – good.
A flat tire – bad.
A challenging diagnosis – bad.
Once we have sorted things into good or bad, our experience of them is altered. How we think about things directs our words and actions. When we receive something we desire or value, we think how lucky we are and then quickly move on. When it’s something that inconveniences or challenges us, we think why me? We question and analyze, turning it over and over in our heads trying to make sense of things. Each of those thoughts – it’s good or bad – takes us on a different path that is entirely created in our heads.
The great tennis player Arthur Ashe, after contracting HIV during heart surgery, summed this up beautifully when he said:
If I were to say, “God, why me?” about the bad things, then I should have said, “God, why me?” about the good things that happened in my life.
The sunflower in my garden served as a great reminder that life is unexpected. How we choose to think about the unexpected is entirely up to us.
Who knows what is good or bad?
In trying to figure out how that sunflower ended up in my garden I lost sight for a moment of its beauty. Sunflowers are happy plants. They turn their face to the sun. They definitely remind me of Tuscany.
I don’t know how a sunflower grew in my garden this year. I’ve stopped asking why. As with all unexpected things, it just is.
And yes I’ve labeled it as good.
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What expected things have shown up in your life?