When I was about ten I wrote an article about a robin that had taken up residence in our garden. I tracked it’s movements, watching it assembling its nest and searching out the best worms our garden could muster. I loved the way it’s little head tilted to the side as if it were trying to figure out what I was doing in it’s garden. I loved the way it boldly landed on gardening tools or the edges of pots, never really afraid of anything except, quite wisely, our family dog!
I never really knew why I loved watching that little robin so much and never really put two and two together about my love of nature and wild gardens until I recently re-read The Secret Garden. Like so many childhood memories this one is somewhat surrounded by a haze. We remember things in part, shades of what really was. I know I loved the book and I know that I had it on a cassette that I played on my Walkman (it was the 90s, after all!) but I never realised how much of what the story of the book had trickled down into my spirit and shaped how I see the world.
In The Secret Garden the garden is perfectly ordinary and yet perfectly magical. The simple discovery of a walled garden that has been long since abandoned and the act of tending it back to life brings the children in the story back to life too. Where they have never felt love, they are moved by the companionship of a robin. Where they have never felt hope, something in them is awakened by the coming of summer in the garden.
Reading it again reawakened so many ways of seeing the world in me that run deep, like tree roots bedded down into the soil. Things like that ‘magic’ is to be found everywhere, if only we would have the eyes to see it. That sadness and darkness is powerful but the life is even stronger and has an irresistible pull, calling to us, willing us to hear it. And that simple things can really be the heart of everything; a place to call your own, the first shoots from a bulb in the spring, the sun on your face on an autumn afternoon.
Reading The Secret Garden again I saw all these things reflected back to me in it’s pages. Though I could only remember the barest outline of its story it was like the essence of the book was running right through me. This, of course, all made me wonder at the power of our childhood experiences; the stories read, the places seen, the quiet moments taken. I find it in equal measures deeply inspiring and hugely terrifying that the deep truths about who they and the fundamental way in which they see the world are forming in the children around me. It definitely makes me want to fill the house with stories and to open up the world as much as I can to my child and the children I work with.
So how about you? Any childhood classics that have shaped who you are? Perhaps it might be time to revisit them!