Once, I started a garden.
My shovel in one hand and my young daughter’s tiny hand in the other, we two walked to the designated spot in the backyard. She was perhaps two or three.
As she watched, I turned over the first shovelful of earth and there in the upturned dirt an earthworm wriggled. I saw my daughter’s eyes widen in surprise and I realized that she did not yet know of worms. This was something new and amazing.
So I reached down to pick it up but she placed her little hand urgently on mine. I understood without any words from her that she was worried that her Daddy could be injured by this strange thing. I hesitated, then reassured her, explaining, “Worms don’t bite. They have no teeth.” Trusting her Daddy’s great knowledge, she relaxed a little and watched cautiously with wide-eyed curiosity as I gathered up the worm into my hands so she could look at it closely.
“You can hold it, too,” I said after a moment. Astonished but trusting, she held her hands out and received the worm thoughtfully, thoughtfully. Tenderly I soon told her, “We should put the worm back in the ground. Worms don’t like the sun. We like the sun, but worms don’t. They dry up from the sun.” Yet another stunning concept from the deep well of information that was her Daddy. So we put the worm back into the soil and stood there for a short while, watching and absorbing—we two—this amazing phenomenon before us.
And as we stood there, I became aware through her silent sense of wonder, of the reality, just beginning to settle into her growing mind, that the Earth below our feet is not just dirt, no, not without life. On the contrary, it is teeming with life—the worms, the many other little creatures that Daddy sometimes lets walk across his hands on their many tiny legs, and who knows what other great mysteries? And through my feet in that special quiet moment we shared, I felt the pulse of the Earth, the pulse of life, and I knew that was what Quakers call that of God when they have occasion to be tender to it, and that it is there within all the creatures alive in the good earth and in the insects on the ground and in the birds singing and winging in the air and in the grass growing at our feet and in the trees and even in the soil and in the rocks. And in the seeds we brought to plant which promised to sprout with life when we cared for them, to grow with our care into things of beauty and into food for our bodies. And in us, like song and like breath in that unspoken moment that we shared, alone together—but really not alone at all.
Now she is approaching 40 and has two children of her own of that same tender age. And maybe once again it is time to start a garden.